The Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society is declaring a salmon emergency in the Somenos watershed.
The society is concerned that, if actions are not taken immediately to improve conditions for salmon in the watershed, salmon will no longer be found in the water system within a few years.
In a letter to the Municipality of North Cowichan, society president Paul Fletcher said the SMWS is asking the municipality to seriously consider the crisis at hand when making future land-use decisions in the Somenos watershed, and to consider additional funding for efforts to resolve the problem of the invasive species parrots feather in Somenos Creek.
“The Somenos watershed as a prime salmon rearing habitat is coming to an end, and the stories of walking on the backs of fish may soon drift further into folklore,” Fletcher said.
“The end of the salmon may only be a few years off, as confirmed by salmon expert Dave Preikshot, the new environmental manager in North Cowichan, at the most recent Somenos management committee meeting.”
Fletcher said a significant reason for the current situation is the water quality issues in Somenos Lake and its tributaries, streams that continue to transport pollution and chemicals unabated from the Somenos drainage area to the Cowichan estuary.
He said the other significant impacts on salmon habitat are in-stream invasive aquatic plants and the ongoing loss and shrinkage of stream-side habitat bordering salmon-bearing creeks.
“Somenos Lake, a place where the Cowichan ancestors had many villages, was once thriving with fish and was a place to swim and enjoy,” Fletcher said.
“The lake is now close to a cesspool status in summer with water temperatures climbing to 30 C, while salmon cannot survive in waters above 24 C. Toxic algae blooms are frequent in the lake and the now low-flowing creeks provide very little fresh water to recharge to system. The lack of flow also contributes to the growth of the parrots feather in Somenos Creek.”
Preikshot, an aquatic scientist, worked with the SMWS as a consultant before recently joining the municipality, and had done a lot of research and work on the Somenos watershed.
He agreed that the watershed is facing a salmon crisis, but said North Cowichan is already acting “above and beyond” its responsibilities on the issue.
“Salmon are a federal responsibility and trout fall under provincial jurisdiction, and much of the work already conducted on dealing with parrot’s feather is being funded by North Cowichan, which has been very generous,” Priekshot said.
“We are preparing a management plan and are now conducting experiments on how to control it. We’re also looking at ways to control water levels in the watershed.”
Priekshot said if the municipality can demonstrate to senior levels of government that it is doing what it can to deal with the problems in the watershed, they will be more inclined to step in with assistance to help save the fish populations.
“There is a historic lack of interest by the federal government to invest in projects like this because, in the past, they have seen no return on their investments, but if we can show that we are moving forward responsibly with programs that show success at the local level, we may be able to get the ball rolling and turn things around,” he said.
“The fish are still hanging on in the watershed for now, despite the problems.”
As for the society’s contention that development in and around the watershed could be adding to the watershed’s woes, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said it has yet to be determined whether increased chemicals in the watershed’s water is connected to development, agriculture and/or other factors.
“That’s all part of the ongoing study of the area that we are conducting,” he said.