The Elk River Current – Going with the flow

Volunteers deconstruct three manmade weirs that were obstructing fish passage in Coal Creek

Some may remember the 2013 flood that left hundreds of residents in the Elk Valley filling sandbags to use as temporary levees to hold back rising waters.

Now, two years later, a Type 2 drought has prompted a very different effort.

This June the Elk River Alliance (ERA) and a small group of volunteers deconstructed three manmade weirs that were obstructing fish passage in Coal Creek, a tributary of the Elk River, after a large Bull trout was found dead. Ayla Bennett, Program Coordinator of the Elk River Alliance, recorded a stream temperature of 21 degrees in lower Coal Creek, just under the airport subdivision bridge, four degrees higher than the optimal growth temperature for Westslope cutthroat trout and 6 degrees higher than a bull trout tolerates.

Why should we care? Angling is a growing industry that the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC estimates generates nearly 1 billion dollars a year with $144 million in federal and provincial tax revenues. Businesses such as the Elk River Guiding Company and

Kootenay Fly shop depend on healthy fish populations to guide clients, market for their fishing gear, and visitors brought into the Elk Valley through fishing supports the local accommodators, restaurants, bars and other services.

The low flow in the river can be explained by a reduced snow pack, especially at low elevations with increased rain on snow events this past winter and high sustained summer air temperatures. Although the weather patterns this year are not unusual in the last

10,000 years, there is global evidence to support these types of extremes are becoming more and more frequent.

“This is an exceptional year where fishing has recently been banned in many Southwestern regions in B.C.”, said local hydrologist, Ryan Macdonald, PhD, working on the Elk River Flood Solutions Strategy with the ERA. Macdonald attributes “the cascading effects of increase in human population with an increase in demand for water that leads to our heightened awareness of this drought.”

The Kootenay region is one of the few areas that has not banned fishing in B.C. As water temperatures rise, streams hold less dissolved oxygen and fish are stressed. Fish may stay in deeper cooler ponds during this part of the year leaving them vulnerable to predators and an easy catch for anglers. To minimize stress during catch and release practices, always use barbless hooks, keep the fish underwater when releasing, and avoid touching its gills. “It is a tough year for the fish, and it is our responsibility to not inhibit their passage and use good practices that conserve the fishery for future generations,” says Lee-Anne Walker, ERA Executive Director.

The Elk River Alliance is committed to keeping the Elk River fishable. To learn more or to get involved, visit our website or like us on Facebook.