Parrot’s Feather choking Somenos Creek

“It was like trying to paddle over a land mass. It was holding the water back and spreading it out like a beaver dam.”

If you live somewhere long enough, things will often catch your eye when they seem off.

Such was the case this summer for Craig Meredith, who lives on the shores of Somenos Lake. His keen eye detected something was up in the lake this summer — particularly the water level.

“I’d noticed during the summer that despite the fact we were having a drought, the lake was not going down to its summer lows,” Meredith explained.

Consultation with the gentleman who does regular water level measurements near the Lakes Road Bridge revealed the water had actually receded there, however.

Something must have been blocking the lake’s outflow.

“It got me thinking, there must be another beaver dam between the Lakes Road Bridge and the lake,” Meredith said.

Growing increasingly curious, he decided to try and solve the mystery.

“I was trying to connect the dots so I went out in my kayak and I went down the creek and I found this weed and it was like a beaver dam. It was very dense,” he said. So dense, in fact, he couldn’t paddle his way through it.

The weeds were about 150 metres south of the lake near the north boundary of the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

“It was like trying to paddle over a land mass. It was holding the water back and spreading it out like a beaver dam,” Meredith explained.

Still not knowing what type of plant he was looking at, Meredith secured a sample.

“I sent it off and I was advised it was Parrot’s weed,” he said.

Parrot’s Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) originated in South America and was introduced in North America as an aquatic plant for gardens and aquariums, according to the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.

“It’s quite a significant issue,” Meredith said.

The invasive species hadn’t been found in the creek before.

“Somebody probably dumped their aquarium in there,” he added.

The invasive species can also be transported on the bottoms of boats.

Mucking up the ebb and flow of the lake, interfering with fish habitats, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and outcompeting and replacing native plants, Meredith figures the weed should be removed.

But it’s not that easy.

Meredith said it would likely take a combination of groups and jurisdictions to deal with the problem.

He’s notified fisheries and the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society but he figures at some point the municipality of North Cowichan would play a role as well.

“Whether or not any action is going to be taken, I can’t tell you,” Meredith said.

Those words were echoed by Shaun Chadburn, an engineering technologist at North Cowichan.

“At this point I don’t know if there’s any plans to do anything,” he said. “I don’t think we have any plans at this point in time that I know of.”

Environmental consultants notified the municipality of the invasive weed last year.

“From what I know it’s all the way into Somenos Creek as well,” Chadburn said. “There’s a few spots in and around the marsh and I’m guessing it’s also up Richard’s Creek a little ways, too.”

Chadburn said it’s a difficult plant to treat.

“With aquatic plants, there’s limited things you can do with them other than dig them out but, from what I understand, Parrot’s Feather doesn’t really respond well to mechanical methods,” he said.

Trying to scoop it out with an excavator is temporary he said. It would get rid of it in the short term but eventually it would return and spread even further.

“I know some of the municipalities in Vancouver have been dealing with it in a lot of their drainage ditches and it slows water down and it’s quite a problem plant.”

Because the land isn’t owned by North Cowichan, they wouldn’t likely be the ones to tackle the issue, anyway.

“Somenos Marsh, for the most part, isn’t North Cowichan’s land,” Chadburn explained. “We don’t complete invasive plant treatments on other people’s lands. If we start helping one landowner then other people are going to want us to treat their invasive plants, too.”

That would open up a huge can of worms.

“There’s plenty of [invasive weed] sites around the Cowichan Valley,” he said.

Meredith has sent the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society a letter explaining his concerns and the group had reached out to him saying the topic would hopefully come up at an upcoming meeting.

Society president Paul Fletcher spoke about the issue with North Cowichan council on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

“We are doing a survey of Somenos Creek in partnership with Cowichan Tribes to try and tackle the Parrot Feather infestation and find out if there are more beaver dams on the Cowichan Tribes’ portion of the property and trying to find a way so we can open up the creek a little bit better so it flows better and try and deal with this Parrot Feather,” he said.

“Parrot Feather is now growing very voraciously and has the ability to block water channels. Somenos Creek is infested near the mouth of Somenos Lake now and it could impede the passage of fish as well. When you chop up the plants it goes downstream and it can reconfigure itself,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher also said the society is going after a grant for a two- to three-year invasive species inventory and action plan for the Somenos conservation area.

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