Warm weather and drought-like conditions in B.C. impacting fish

John Templeton collects water samples at Stoney Creek on Burnaby Mountain every day and lately drawing a sample is proving difficult.

Low rainfall in the past few months coupled with Environment Canada predicting sustained heat is causing concerns about the drought-like conditions and the impact on the province’s waterways.

Water levels in many river systems in the province are already very low, and more typical of levels seen in August, and it’s raising concerns about the health of the salmon runs.

“This creek, I have never seen it as low as it is right now in 20 years,” says Templeton, chair of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee, which overseas stewardship of Salmon in the area.

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The waterways on Burnaby Mountain act as a nursery for Coho salmon fry and it will be their home for the next year, until they are ready to make the journey to spawning beds.

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Record low snow pack combined with dry weather has resulted in drought-like conditions throughout the region and streams have been reduced to shallow pools, sometimes trapping salmon.

Environmentalists are concerned that the water that is left can potentially heat up to deadly levels for the fish.

“The temperatures I’m getting now and the flow I’m getting now is usually the flow in September or early October,” says Templeton.

He says salmon starts to feel distressed when the water temperatures reach 18 degrees Celsius and when it reaches 22 degrees Celsius or above it can result in serious complication even death.

Templeton says many of these warm streams run into the Fraser River; which can also heat up in the summer.

Having one of British Columbia’s most important salmon runs heat up is a concern.

Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation says the fish can find some cooler waters along the Fraser, but prolonged heating of the waters can prove dangerous. He says the salmon might be weakened enough by the heat, leaving them to die before reaching the spawning beds.

If the salmon in the Fraser River drop in significant numbers, Riddell says it will impact everything from fishing, local first nation bands, to future spawning populations.

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~ with files from John Hua

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