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‘Cool fishy features’ highlight North Saanich waterway’s extreme makeover

Not only is Chalet Creek being cleaned up after last November's massive storms washed out the road and debris was dumped in the creek bed, it will be more “fish friendly” than it was in recent years.
Ian Bruce surveys the area where Chalet Road in North Saanich was washed out during last November’s storms. The repair project includes major stream restoration to support coho and chum salmon and cutthroat trout populations. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Chalet Creek is going through an extreme makeover to convert the storm-ravaged area into the kind of place that chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout want to call home.

November’s massive storms washed out Chalet Road in North Saanich. The road embankment collapsed, the culvert below the road failed, a section of the water main was carried away, and debris was dumped into the creek bed.

The $582,000 contract to repair the road, culvert and stream was awarded to Northridge Excavating Ltd.

On the scene is Ian Bruce, executive co-ordinator of the Peninsula Streams Society, which is collaborating with North Saanich on the stream improvement project.

Not only is the creek being cleaned up, it will be more “fish friendly” than it was in recent years, Bruce said Friday.

The creek historically supported chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout. But numbers have dropped.

The lower end of the creek could potentially support a small chum run of 40 to 50 fish returning to spawn annually and self-sustaining returns of a couple of dozen coho, Bruce said.

A key improvement is making it easier for spawning salmon to reach fresh water. Sandstone rock is being chipped away at the entrance of the creek to create easier access for spawning salmon leaving the marine environment. Pools will be created so the salmon can rest as they forge upstream.

Many improvements have already been made to the upper part of the creek, where an upgraded habitat is being set up. This includes incubator boxes for salmon eggs, new gravel, round rocks and areas with riffles where water moves quickly in a stream.

The creek has new debris stumps and overhangs and “all sorts of really cool fishy features,” Bruce said. A part of the original creek that survived the storm is being retained.

A bypass channel has been built so that when water rises to a certain level, it will run into another channel so that it doesn’t scour out the new habitat. Part of an old dam has been taken out to make the passage more welcoming for fish.

The upgraded area will be about 250 metres long, from above Chalet Road down to Deep Cove, Bruce said.

Improvements are also being supported by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, he said.

Creek restoration work to encourage salmon and trout has been going on for more than 20 years and has involved many individuals and groups.

Parkland Secondary School, led by biology teacher Hans Bauer, started the Chalet Creek Streamkeepers, now called Friends of Chalet Creek, in 1996.

That group was a founding member of the Peninsula Streams Society, which has been working on Chalet Creek since 2002.

The creek winds through private properties on its way to the ocean. Friends of Chalet Creek carry out restoration work on private lands to develop a more natural environment capable of supporting native plants and animals, a statement from North Saanich said.

Students at Deep Cove Elementary School have released more than 10,000 salmon fry into the creek. More than 150 trees have been planted in the area by students.

Bringing salmon back to the creek has been an uphill battle. This year, one cutthroat trout and four juvenile coho were found in the creek.

It’s hoped that the habitat improvements will result in much larger returns in the future, the district said.

When salmon are found in a waterway, that is an indicator that the environment is healthy, Bruce said.