The Alouette Watershed and Dam Construction
The creation of the Alouette Dam in the late 1920’s blocked downstream river flow other than tributary flows, or at times, gave the Alouette River roaring floods. This resulted in dramatic declines in the historic numbers of all five Pacific salmon species plus ocean-going steelhead. This decline also included the extirpation of the Alouette sockeye salmon which needed the Alouette Lake for its traditional spawning grounds. Further losses of salmon numbers occurred when they lost access to the upper two-thirds of spawning grounds located above the dam. Chinook salmon were extirpated ten or so years after the dam was constructed and Gold Creek, as critical habitat, was denied to salmon by this dam. By the 1960’s pink salmon were another tragic species lost in the Alouette system.
The Alouette River Management Society and the Water Use Plan
The Alouette River Management Society (ARMS) was formed as a non-profit society in 1993 and as the primary focus at that time, ARMS started negotiating with BC Hydro to increase the Alouette River’s base water flows by releases of water from the reservoir into the river. Further, in 1993, BC Hydro was told by the BC NDP government to review its reservoir operations in more environmental detail. Getting BC Hydro to release more water from the reservoir down the Alouette River required changes to the management of the Alouette Reservoir and BC Hydro’s water flow release methods from the dam. ARMS was one of the key drivers in advocating for river flow modeling to find an ideal flow release for enhancing the aquatic needs of salmon in their various stages of development in an economic manner. Further, ARMS became part of the technical river flow team which in turn handed on their results to a public body which ARMS also sat in, to negotiate with BC Hydro for a beneficial cost and fisheries flow release into the river.
Fish Passage Feasibility Framework & Why the Alouette Watershed needs Fish Passage
Since 2005, studies undertaken in the Alouette and Coquitlam watersheds have concluded that the non-anadromous Alouette Reservoir Kokanee can revert to an anadromous form if given the opportunity (Plate, et. al. 2014). In 2007, sockeye returned to the Alouette River, which was seen as a miracle, given that there hadn’t been any reported returns since a couple of seasons after the Alouette dam was built. The sockeye which returned were tested by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for their DNA and these fish were determined to be genetically Alouette stock, or landlocked kokanee which had left the Alouette system in the 2005 flood and returned as sockeye. There is now a mandated water release to allow kokanee out of the reservoir every year from April to June. This is great news for the landlock kokanee, as they can now leave the reservoir under their own impetus. However, it is ironic for the adult sockeye returning home, as there is no way for them to get back to the lake to continue their life cycle and spawn. While ARMS and its partners work through the Fish Passage Feasibility Framework, outlined by BC Hydro, any returning sockeye are sampled, trapped at ALLCO Fish Hatchery and trucked by BC Corrections via a gravel road up to Alouette Reservoir and then released.
In Plate et. al. 2014 report, it was stated that there were no serious biological or operational impediments to re-establishing a self-sustaining run of sockeye salmon in the Alouette Reservoir. Fish passage over the Alouette Dam would not only be of huge benefit for out-migrating smolts and returning adults, it would open up more rearing and spawning habitat for other salmon species, correct a historical wrong with local First Nations who were never consulted when the Alouette dam was constructed, and be a great tourism draw to the Maple Ridge region. As Golden Ears Provincial Park is one of the largest and most used provincial parks in British Columbia, a fish passage would add a new dimension for recreational tourism which the Lower Mainland has not yet seen. Having a strong self-sustaining run of all six species of Pacific Salmon in the Alouette River and Alouette Reservoir would be a historical, ecological, social and economic win-win-win for Katzie First Nation, the City of Maple Ridge and the ratepayers of BC Hydro.
First mature sockeye to return to the Alouette River, October 2018