Steeves: There’s hope for beleaguered rivers

As part of a three-year Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation project, the Kettle River is getting some help from its friends.

Trout in the Kettle River were tagged last year above the dorsal fin to help verify visual counts

Trout in the Kettle River were tagged last year above the dorsal fin to help verify visual counts

If nothing else, we should begin every new year with a clean slate and positive outlook. Hope should be the word of the day, despite indications to the contrary.

For instance, for those anglers concerned about deteriorating conditions in the Kettle River, there is hope.

Although the Kettle topped the Outdoor Recreation Council’s province-wide ‘most endangered rivers’ list last year, efforts are underway to improve conditions with a stock assessment and tagging, monitoring flows and habitat, educating water users, working on a water use plan and providing in-stream structure so there’s more and better habitat for fish.

It’s part of a three-year project by the environment ministry with funding from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation—you know, that surcharge on your angling and hunting licences. It’s good to see we’re getting something worthwhile back from it, isn’t it?

The poor beleaguered Kettle River, although still the best fishing stream around here, has gone through some rough times in recent years.

There were fish kills from low water levels in 2003 and 2009 and water levels reached historic lows during the 2009 drought.

But ministry biologist Tara White says at least conditions have improved enough that the fishing closure has ended.

She says there was an increase of six times the number of fish after installation of 29 large woody debris structures in different parts of the river to provide deep water refuge for rainbows. That work was done between 2007 and 2009.

The problem is not simple.

There has been over-fishing in the past, but in addition, there have been many changes in recent years around the river, which is in the Christian Valley, just up Highway 33 from Kelowna.

Farming and an increased population have both led to more water use as well as to the removal of natural streamside cover and even changes in-stream as people meddle along the shore. They feel they are cleaning it up!

Unfortunately, everyone wants more water at the same time, when temperatures are highest at the end of summer, and the low water levels that result cause increased water temperatures, which can be fatal for fish—even if the low levels alone are not.

With volunteers from local fish and game clubs, Tara and her colleagues used snorkel gear to float in the river and literally count the fish, keeping the data by age classes.

Fish were also tagged above the dorsal fin this year to refine those estimates.

Monitoring stations have been set up at 11 sites to check on changes in the width of the channel, the width that is wetted, and to measure flows and correlate that data between streamflow, temperature and fish stocks.

That will help them to identify the thresholds where fish are adversely affected so they will know when the fishery needs to be closed, and to establish minimum flow requirements to prevent more fish kills.

Meanwhile, Tara has been meeting with ranchers and growers as well as anglers and naturalists’ clubs and local government to talk about concerns around the river’s management.

A water use plan is being prepared which will include mapping crops in the area so water allocation is managed to the optimum.

By working together, she is confident the Kettle’s problems can be fixed. However, she’s concerned that once fish stocks are lost they may never be brought back.

Hopefully, this is one instance where we have stepped in to right a wrong caused by our meddling in the natural environment in time to prevent the collapse of a species and the loss of one of our province’s beautiful natural features.

Despite the delightful winter weather we’ve been enjoying, you may prefer to enjoy the snow, to going fishing…

If so, the Kelowna Nordic Club is holding a Moonlight Ski and Snowshoe from the main cabin this Saturday, Jan. 7. It begins at 5:30 p.m. with the appies and desserts you bring, then continues with a sing-along with John McIntyre at 6:30 p.m. and skiing or snowshoeing at 7:30 p.m.

It’s also the time of year that many groups hold annual meetings, with the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club featuring two Kelowna staffers talking about the city’s parks and environment. Terry Barton, manager, parks and public spaces, and Todd Cashin, environment and land use manager will talk about the achievements in 2011 and challenges upcoming for 2012.

Everyone is welcome to attend at the Evangel Church on Gordon Drive, Tues., Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

The Friends of the South Slopes are holding their agm Thurs., Jan. 12 at the EECO in Mission Creek Regional Park at 7 p.m., with Wayne Wilson, executive-director of the Kelowna Museum, presenting a slide show of his voyageur canoe trip down the Columbia River from B.C. to the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon last summer.

He was following in the footsteps of explorer and map-maker David Thompson as part of the fur bridage trail, exactly 200 years earlier.

There’ll be free draws for door prizes, and the society’s map of the South Slopes trails will be available.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.


Kelowna Capital News