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Warming climate dashes West Vancouver salmon habitat project

Summer water flows too low for juvenile coho
Lawson Creek Aug web
Water on West Vancouver's Lawson Creek slows to barely a trickle in August 2021. The West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society now says the creek is no longer suitable for a salmon habitat restoration project.

It was to be one of the most ambitious West Vancouver Streamkeeper Society habitat restoration projects, but now the proposed rearing channel in Lawson Creek is officially scrapped, and climate change is to blame.

Since 2015, the stewardship group has been planning to create a new side channel within Lawson Park, which could have been ideal spawning habitat for chum, year-round habitat for cutthroat trout, and rearing habitat for juvenile coho.

The stream keepers announced Monday that their engineers have deemed the project not feasible, largely because prolonged summer droughts mean Lawson wouldn’t have enough water flow for coho salmon to survive.

It confirms what project co-lead John Barker had a bad feeling about – that increasingly hot and dry summers would make the project a death trap rather than oasis for the beset species.

“We know from experience this will not support fish. In the wintertime, it would be fine. We'd have lots of water going through there. But for juvenile coho that live in the creek for a year, it would be perilous,” he said.

A lot of time, collaborative effort and money has gone into the proposal, but Barker said cancelling it was the prudent decision.

“It was a pretty clear message we had to step away from it. I can't imagine a worse outcome than going to the trouble and expense of building this and it fails. To think of fish being stranded and perishing is just unacceptable,” he said.

In the past, the stream keepers have completed habitat restoration projects on McDonald, Larson, Rodgers and Nelson creeks as well as in Memorial Park – all of which have proven successful in wooing more salmon.

Despite a disappointing setback on Lawson, Barker said there is no shortage of opportunities for humans to help salmon on West Vancouver’s other streams, the next major one being a fish passage project for Cypress Creek.

“There are other projects in other places,” he said.

Had the project gone ahead, it would have required moving historic Navvy Jack House, which is at the mouth of Lawson Creek. The District of West Vancouver opted last fall to save the 1872 settler home from demolition and give it heritage protection. The district is currently studying various business cases for keeping the structure and repurposing it in a way that won’t become a financial liability for district taxpayers.

District spokeswoman Donna Powers said the decision to cancel the Lawson Creek fish project was a disappointment and thanks are owed to the stream keepers for championing it, but it will likely create some flexibility in the options for Navvy Jack House.