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Bowker Creek restoration a textbook example of environmental healing

A revitalized Bowker Creek will be an added touch to the new Oak Bay High School, set to open in September.
Bystanders watch the habitat-enhancement work at Bowker Creek along the back of the Oak Bay High School property. The restoration work will widen the creek channel and make the slope of the banks less steep, which should help to slow its flow.

A revitalized Bowker Creek will be an added touch to the new Oak Bay High School, set to open in September.

The creek is a prominent feature at the south end of the school grounds, where it cuts a swath, then flows a few more kilometres to the ocean near Willows Beach.

Work began this month on a restoration along 120 metres of the creek, where much of the growth was invasive and not conducive to a healthy environment.

“They’ve cleared out all the vegetation, they’ve taken trees out as necessary, they’ve done the archeological investigations as needed,” said Glenn Harris, senior manager of the Capital Regional District’s environmental protection division.

Excavation is underway to widen the creek channel and give it a gentler slope, so the creek has been temporarily diverted through a pipe.

“They’re trying to naturalize it,” Harris said. “The whole idea is to try to mimic a natural system.”

Not only has the channel been altered over the years, Harris said, but stretches of the creek were routed into underground pipes in the 1960s.

The narrow channel that the creek has been running through behind the high school meant fast-moving water during heavy rain; Harris said a more meandering route will help slow the water down.

“It creates ripples and pools and all the variety of habitat that wildlife needs.”

Right now, only about three kilometres of the eight-kilometre creek are above-ground. The goal is to have all of the waterway above-ground or “daylighted” over the next century, he said.

“That’s the motto: It took 100 years to mess up the creek, it’s going to take 100 years to fix it.”

Increasing the number of fish in the creek is another aim.

Future improvement areas include the stretch of the creek running by the Royal Jubilee Hospital, while a portion near the Hillside Shopping Centre is an example of a completed site.

Partners in the work include the District of Oak Bay and the Greater Victoria school district. Oak Bay was able to secure funding of $738,000 from the federal Gas Tax Fund, which supports a range of municipal initiatives.

Plans call for high school students to participate by putting in some of the plants that will be required along the bank. Harris said there will be a small amphitheatre by the creek to serve as an outdoor classroom, along with sitting areas for the public.

The creek work is a good fit with the construction activity that is going on, said Jim Soles, the school district’s supervisor of building projects.

“It was the right time to do it,” he said. “We approved the process, we approved the plantings. It was a joint effort all around.”

The project is due for completion by October.

The overall vision is contained in a 2011 document called the Bowker Creek Blueprint, which Harris said has attracted interest across the country. It looks to balance environmental, social and economic considerations.

“People are using it and saying ‘This how you reclaim urban streams.’ It’s being used in textbooks, it’s being presented at conferences and presentations with professional associations.”