First Nations, regional district and the Department of Environment are working to reverse a project to divert water from the Surrey River.
The Surrey River diversion opened in 2013 and affected the length of the river and tidal channels in the Fraser Delta. The decision to divert the Fraser River to the Fraser River was made on the basis of a report by the Fraser Basin Council. The report concluded that the risk of flooding due to rapid climate change was warranted.
The Fraser Basin Council will no longer collect data on the local river but the scientific community is concerned about the effect on the salmon runs and the culture and identity of First Nations that rely on the Fraser River. The region is facing population pressures, too, as thousands of people move to North America from Asia every year. One study predicts there will be 20,000 new families in B.C. by 2040. The majority of the communities are only accessible by floatplane or boat.
Members of the region have noted a marked reduction in salmon reproduction along the Fraser River system.
“My concern is that the Fraser River diversion may have had devastating effects on salmon habitat and stress and harm to salmon naturally native to the Fraser Valley,” said Chris O’Byrne, chair of the Fraser Delta Regional District.
It would be impossible to reverse the diversion, but the local First Nations are taking action to remove some of the barriers and restore the river to its natural, undisturbed state. The First Nations reached a consensus with the local regional district that the river should be used for water, food, recreation and tourism.
The First Nations now co-manage salmon habitats around the river. The mission is to ensure healthy salmon runs by restoring and promoting fish and wildlife habitat. “In place of the fish-less diversion project, the local regional district is working with the First Nations and other partners to protect salmon runs and restoration efforts of salmon and fisheries habitat,” said O’Byrne.
The Fraser River flow will be restored but it will take time to regain the upstream and downstream benefits, said ODEC chair John Ives. “The quickest way to restore a significant reduction in flow in such a river as the Fraser River is to return the Fraser River to its undisturbed, natural state, which would take years rather than a few months to achieve.
“If we want a healthy Fraser River and we want to have a healthy Fraser Valley, we need to restore the river to its natural state. The environmental damage caused by the diversion still has to be corrected,” he said.