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Waters of rehabilitation begin to flow again for fish habitat on Cottonwood Creek

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
January 31st, 2016

The Nelson Rod and Gun Club is once again wading into the waters of Cottonwood Creek rehabilitation as it begins to rebuild momentum on a project that has been treading water for years.

Club member Alan Thomson said the proposed improvements to Cottonwood Creek — between Kootenay Lake and Baker Street — hold potential for upgrading fish habitat, and restoring fish to the creek.

But currently the creek section is mostly encased in concrete and is devoid of functional fish habitat, he told city council last week in an update on the reprise of the project, and blocks fish migration to creek sections above Baker Street.

The club identified those lower sections of Cottonwood Creek — between the Baker Street Bridge and the West Arm of Kootenay Lake — as having tremendous potential for fish habitat. Both sections have been studied and a draft fish habitat rehabilitation report was prepared in 2010.

Up until 2013 the club had been pursuing avenues of funding to start the work, until the city suggested putting the project on hold because the Railtown project was in development, as well as the question of the transfer station lands.

With those questions now answered the work can begin anew on negotiations with CP Rail on freeing up the waterway lands for rehabilitation.

“The creek section that is identified as being the most degraded — and thus having the most potential for improvement — is owned by CPR,” Thomson said.

“In my experience there is nothing worse for fisheries than a concrete flume, other than a concrete pipe. So this is about as bad as it gets unless you are dumping toxins into the water.”

One of the major concerns for this project is the quality of the land lying on either side of the creek, he pointed out.

“It is contaminated. There have been a number of studies which have shown where the contamination is, where the ‘hot spots’ are,” Thomson said. “From what I have seen the hot spots are away from the creek. If needed, remediation would be up to $400,000 (for that).”

The idea would be to build it up for the fish to migrate slowly, but not beyond a certain point.

“The concept is … to give the river a fairly wide floodplain to let it wander naturally as it wants to do, then you build up the banks on either side,” he said.

“So as much (land) as we could get out of CP for remediation we would take. But if we only got the streambed I would be happy with that.”
The club is currently in discussions with CP Rail — that owns sections of the streambed and the creek itself — about club access to, and permission to rehabilitate, sections of the creek that pass through its land for streambed and bank rehabilitation only, Thomson noted.

The club is interested in the rehabilitating the 175 metres on CP land, part of it bounded by a concrete flume — built in the 1940s. The Rod and Gun Club has had a long history of service work on the creek, including riparian work around the airport lands.

Before development in the 1890s Cottonwood Creek was an alluvial fan, and was moved to accommodate the airport and the rail yards.

If all works out according to plan, the club would remove the concrete flume, bringing in a natural streambed — which is underneath the flume — and planting the banks (riparian zone) with native vegetation plants.

“So it would basically be a corridor, I would say, of green,” Thomson said, “both wetted and terrestrial, up to Baker Street.”

The target fish species to bring back include kokanee, bull trout and rainbow trout.
“Kokanee stocks are under threat in Kootenay Lake and this project has potential to restore historic spawning and rearing habitat in the creek,” said Thomson.

There is also potential for rehabilitation for the streambed adjacent to the city’s public works land, as well as downstream towards the airport and the mouth of the creek. Some work has been done in those sections, Thomson noted.

Permanent pedestrian or vehicular access to their land in the vicinity of the creek is not part of the club’s submission to the rail company. CP does not want to have pedestrian access or vehicular access to its land, said Thomson. He said the club is just interested in the creek, not foot or wheel access.

If negotiations proceed with CP, the club will be back in front of council for its endorsement letter for the project to gather strength and raise the funds for the project.

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