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Squamish Nation responds to fish kill on Cheakamus River

Nation's confidence in BC Hydro's Sea to Sky facility shaken, statement says.

The Squamish Nation has released a statement regarding the death of thousands of fish, including many spawning pink salmon, following a BC Hydro ramping event Friday, Oct. 1.

"The salmon [are] important to [the] Squamish way of life and the people honour their return each year to traditional spawning grounds. Climate change, commercial harvest, habitat loss, and hydroelectric facilities have contributed to the steady decline of salmon populations for decades. Repeated mass stranding events like this one at the Cheakamus River jeopardize fish populations, and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw way of life," the Oct. 12 online statement reads. 

Previously, BC Hydro said: “On Sept. 29, we increased the spill release on the Cheakamus River to manage increased inflows to Daisy Lake Reservoir as a result of weather events. Storm inflows ended up higher than expected, resulting in a larger spill than anticipated,” a written statement to The Chief said. 

“Starting Sept. 30, we began to slowly reduce flows on the Cheakamus River as inflow levels decreased following the storm.”

The spokesperson stated that the ramp-down plan follows the protocols discussed previously with First Nations, stakeholders, and agencies developed through the Cheakamus Adaptive Stranding Protocol (CASP) over the past few years. 

The plan is consistent with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) guidelines, BC Hydro said. 

“It applies ramping rates with smaller changes over longer periods of time to allow fish movement from potential stranding sites.”

The Crown corporation sent out two crews to help with salvaging over the days following the ramping. 

The spokesperson said it was engaging with First Nations, stakeholders and agencies through the ramping process and a debrief following the event. 

In 2019, a similar fish kill occurred after a ramping event and since then, staff from the Nation’s rights and title department has been working with BC Hydro, the Nation said.

Nation representatives have participated in the Cheakamus Adaptive Stranding Protocol, and they supported a plan for BC Hydro to fund a pink salmon program at Tenderfoot Creek Hatchery in Squamish, to compensate for the losses from 2019. 

Representatives have also lobbied for better communication with the Nation in advance of planned and unplanned events like this ramping. The Nation members have also identified cultural values on the Cheakamus River and in the watershed that require better recognition and protection. 

"For something like this to happen despite efforts since 2019 has shaken our confidence that this Cheakamus facility can ever operate in a manner that recognizes the value of Indigenous ways in respecting and protecting our lands, waters, and the life within it," the Nation's statement reads. 

"Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw is currently investigating the details of this event and exploring all options to prevent another tragedy. As a regulator who oversees activities throughout the territory, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw is committed to justice for our salmon and addressing any impacts of this event on Squamish fishing rights." 

Regarding the Nation's statement, a BC Hydro spokesperson told The Squamish Chief on Oct. 12 that the company had informed Squamish Nation before the ramp down and continued with notifications as the situation evolved.

"This was a very unfortunate event, and unexpected, given that the learnings from previous years were incorporated in the ramp down plan to better protect fish. We acknowledge the continuing impacts of BC Hydro’s operations on the Squamish Nation and we’re grateful for Squamish Nation’s participation and discussion with BC Hydro on our efforts to improve operations at the Cheakamus facility," said BC Hydro's Simi Heer in an email to the paper.

"We are committed to continuing to learn and work with Squamish Nation on better protecting the environment and salmon." 

**Please note, this story has been updated since it was first posted to include a new comment from BC Hydro.



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