Where today torrents of muddy water rage straight through Kelowna in a channelized river bed, in future Mission Creek will meander in zigzag fashion across the flat land on its way to Okanagan Lake—somewhat as it did in the past.
Including the acquisition of property where necessary, the setback of re-engineered dikes to provide a wider channel, reconnection to oxbows such as existed historically, replanting and other work involved, it’s a multi-million dollar project.
But, such a restoration will aid in controlling spring flood waters and preventing damage to properties and farmland at the same time as providing at least a portion of the wildlife and fish habitat lost when the river was straightened and diked in the 1950s, explains Tara White, chair of the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative.
In that process more than 60 per cent of the creek’s length was lost, along with 80 per cent of the spawning and rearing habitat for trout and kokanee and 75 per cent of its wetland and riparian areas, adversely affecting fish and wildlife—including species at risk and their breeding, rearing and overwintering habitats.
At one time, the creek was 30 kilometres long in what is now 11 kilometres in its lower reaches, noted White, who is also a biologist with the province. Where it used to be 60 to 80 metres wide in places, today it’s 30 metres.
“It’s been engineered to be straight, like a highway, and that’s not what a healthy, functioning stream should be like,” she explained.
Even today, she describes the Mission Creek Greenway and its natural surroundings as “a treasure in the middle of a downtown urban environment,” and there will be even more of it as this project unfolds.
Mission Creek is the largest single producer of stream-spawning kokanee for Okanagan Lake and produces the lake’s trophy 20-pound rainbows as well.
The creek and its riparian area are home to a number of species on the endangered list or of concern, such as the tiger salamander, spadefoot toad, painted turtles, gopher snake, racer snake and Western rattlesnake, herons, black cottonwoods, sedges and cattails, Lewis’ woodpecker, Western screech owl and yellow-breasted chat.
An ecological goods and services study funded by the OBWB is currently being completed, said White.
The MCRI was formed in 2002 and is made up of a cross-section of community groups and agencies who have embarked on a project that could take decades to complete—to re-naturalize Mission Creek’s course in its lower 12 kilometres.
The effort has been spearheaded by staff from the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations and includes partners and representatives from the Central Okanagan Land Trust, Central Okanagan Regional District, City of Kelowna, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Friends of Mission Creek, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Ministry of Agriculture, Mission Creek Compensation Bank, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Okanagan Basin Water Board, Okanagan Region Wildlife Heritage Fund Society and Westbank First Nations.
So far, the group has acquired $1.2 million in land along the stream as well as doing some in-stream restoration work, and it has spent $40,000 on studies, completing a timeline and plan for going forward, and set up a website to communicate with the public for help in achieving the project’s goals. It’s at: www.missioncreek.ca
The largest purchase to date was announced Tuesday as a portion of the Mission Creek Greenway was officially added to the linear park on the south side of the creek.
That was made possible by an agreement with the WFN for a portion of the trail to go through their IR 8, with the granting of a Public Access Agreement.
Raf De Guevara, manager of intergovernmental affairs for the WFN, says the agreement was a partnership between CORD, the city and the band, to share their lands and provide a dedicated pathway for all to use.
“We’re always happy to work on joint ventures,” he commented. The rest of that five-acre reserve is green space, and he said there has been no decision on its future.
It was one of the band’s settlement pieces and historically was one of the Okanagan Nation’s encampments in fall when the kokanee came up the creek to spawn, he explained.
Adjacent is farmland owned by the Casorso family, who came to the MCRI group to discuss property acquisition a couple of years ago.
Rob Casorso, son of Kelowna pioneer August Casorso, says the 16-acre property across which a portion of the greenway was built is owned by his sisters, Joan Casorso, Chris Schmidt and Fran Larsen.
He helped to negotiate with various levels of government to separate six acres of it to be used for the recreational trail and for the re-naturalization project, with the approval of the Agricultural Land Commission.
In return, the remaining 10 acres is now more viable for farming because it has been drained and ditched and fenced. Hay is grown on the property, he said.
The six-acre piece was purchased for $550,000 with a contribution of $215,000 from the regional district’s Regional Parks Legacy fund, $335,000 from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and the City of Kelowna taking care of the legal costs. Title for this and two other small parcels upstream are being held by the city for MCRI.
With this week’s announcement, greenway users now have a (legal) 2.5-kilometre loop trail that permits them to park the car at the Mission Sportsfields, just off Gordon Drive, and hike, run, cycle or ride a horse along the south or north side of the creek to Casorso Road, and back along the other side.
Retired fisheries research biologist Peter Dill has long been an advocate for Mission Creek and he’s been involved with MCRI and the efforts to “give it back some of its natural meander.”
He admits there is a new provincial standard for diking which will have to be followed when the current dikes, and the greenway that follows the top of those dikes, are set back to provide more space for this key Okanagan Valley river.
Both humans looking for recreational opportunities in a natural setting and wild critters, will have lots of new habitat as the project proceeds, he points out.
Providing Mission Creek with the freedom to move will reduce its energy and reduce the flood risks as well as enriching the habitat it provides.
Brian Springinotic, CEO of the HCTF said he was particularly pleased to acknowledge this project since he grew up in the Okanagan.
He pointed out that the money for the HCTF donation came from the province’s anglers, hunters, trappers and guide/outfitters.
“This our first big acquisition, but we’re looking for partners, donations, bequests and other opportunities to continue this project,” commented White.