At the east end of Burnaby Lake, Metro Vancouver Senior Engineer Ed Von Euw stands on the small dam that divides the lake from the Brunette River as he points to salmon in swirling water near an opening in the dam. “They make their way up the fish ladder where rock clusters have been placed. It creates a series of pools so they can step up (to the dam),” he explains.
As they easily swim through the one metre wide opening, the salmon gain access to approximately 50 rivers and creeks that lead to Burnaby Lake, within the Brunette Basin watershed. In 2016 a camera and fish counter recorded over 2050 fish passing through the dam. Along with another 2500 salmon that accessed the Brunette tributary called Stoney Creek just downstream of the dam, the total of 4584 returning salmon is the highest number since record keeping began 25 years ago.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early 1900s, the Brunette streams were cleared and straightened to help the logging industry. “Then the Cariboo Dam was built to help control floods. The (fish) numbers plunged to almost nothing for many years,” says von Euw.
In the early 2000s, a partnership of governments and invested groups created the Brunette Basin Watershed Plan which aimed to protect and enhance the watershed around Burnaby Lake with actions such as adding logs, rock clusters, and riparian plantings, and to built the fish ladder, which was achieved in 2011. “We are making it similar to what it was before all those (early 1900s) changes were made.”
Ed von Euw reflects on what he’s seen during the partnership’s tenure. “Everybody works really well together. I’ve seen the commitment people have to the environment and the fish.” In fact, the collaborative group pioneered a template for urban watershed planning that’s now required in all Metro Vancouver area watersheds.
“We’re seeing a few eagles in the system and they feed on the salmon and they all fit together. That’s how the ecosystem works. The fact that salmon are coming back in these numbers is a really good sign.”
The Brunette Basin Task Group included representatives of Cities of Burnaby, Vancouver, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BC Ministry of Environment, BCIT, UBC, Sapperton Fish and Game Club, and Metro Vancouver.