‘Fresh fish features’ highlight extreme transformation of North Saanich Waterway

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Not only is Chalet Creek being cleaned up after the huge storms last November that washed out the road and dumped debris into the creek bed, it will be more “fish friendly” than it has been in recent years.

Chalet Creek is undergoing an extreme makeover to convert the storm-ravaged area into the kind of place chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout want to call home.

Severe November storms swept away Chalet Road in North Saanich. The road embankment collapsed, the culvert under the road ruptured, a section of the water main was washed away and debris was dumped into the creek bed.

The $582,000 contract to repair the road, culvert and creek was awarded to Northridge Excavating Ltd.

At the scene is Ian Bruce, Executive Coordinator of the Peninsula Streams Society, which is working with North Saanich on the stream improvement project.

Not only is the creek being cleaned up, but it will be more “fish friendly” than it has been in recent years, Bruce said on Friday.

The creek has always supported chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout. But the numbers have dropped.

The lower end of the creek could potentially support a small run of 40 to 50 fish returning to spawn each year and self-sustaining returns of a few dozen coho, Bruce said.

A key improvement is making it easier for spawning salmon to access fresh water. The sandstone rock is chipped at the creek entrance to create easier access for spawning salmon leaving the marine environment. Pools will be created for the salmon to rest while they forge upstream.

Many improvements have already been made to the upper creek, where improved habitat is being developed. This includes incubator boxes for salmon eggs, new gravel, round rocks, and areas with rapids where water moves quickly in a stream.

The creek has new debris stumps and overhangs and “all sorts of really cool fish features,” Bruce said. A portion of the original creek that survived the storm is retained.

A diversion channel was built so that when the water rises to a certain level, it flows into another channel so as not to scour the new habitat. Part of an old dam has been removed to make the passage more fish friendly.

The upgraded area will be around 250 meters long from above Chalet Road to Deep Cove, Bruce said.

Improvements are also supported by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, he said.

Work to restore the creek to encourage salmon and trout has been going on for over 20 years and has involved many individuals and groups.

Parkland High School, led by biology teacher Hans Bauer, started the Chalet Creek Streamkeepers, now called Friends of Chalet Creek, in 1996.

This group was a founding member of the Peninsula Streams Society, which has worked on Chalet Creek since 2002.

The creek meanders through private properties on its way to the ocean. Friends of Chalet Creek are carrying out restoration work on private land to develop a more natural environment capable of supporting native plants and animals, a statement from North Saanich said.

Students at Deep Cove Elementary School released over 10,000 salmon fry into the creek. Over 150 trees have been planted in the area by students.

Getting the salmon back to the creek was an uphill battle. This year, one cutthroat trout and four juvenile coho were found in the creek.

It is hoped that the habitat improvements will result in much larger yields in the future, the district said.

When salmon are found in a stream, it’s an indicator that the environment is healthy, Bruce said.

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