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Threats to the ecological health of the Salmon River watershed in Langley, B.C. and suggestions for improved… Roberts, Lindsay 2014

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                     THREATS TO THE ECOLOGICAL HEALTH OF THE SALMON RIVER WATERSHED IN LANGLEY, B.C. AND SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVED LOCAL AND PROVINCIAL MANAGEMENT             By Lindsay Roberts Undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia  Faculty of Arts, Department of Geography Report prepared at the request of Paul Donahue from Dillon Consulting Limited in partial fulfillment of UBC Geography 419: Research in Environmental Geography, for Dr. David Brownstein.    	   2	  Executive Summary  In this report I use Environment Canada and the Government of Canada’s hydrometric and precipitation data respectively to discuss current hydrologic trends in the Salmon River, located in Langley, B.C. I then provide a critique of environmental management and include comments from interviews I conducted with professionals in regards to sustainability efforts in the watershed.  The Salmon River watershed has experienced land cover changes such as land clearing for agriculture and some low-density development. These activities have caused stress on the groundwater and stream levels in the summer, and have also increased the percentage of runoff in the watershed. I conclude that management of the Salmon River Watershed must be improved through the efforts of the Agricultural Land Committee, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and the Township of Langley. In order to prevent and reduce runoff and over-extraction of water sources, the Agricultural Land Committee must set forth legislation regarding the ALR subdivision in the Salmon River uplands. Provincial legislation and guidance conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands is needed to introduce farmers to financially and environmentally sustainable, water-efficient techniques. Lastly, local and provincial education and restoration programs targeted toward industrial and agricultural activities should be maintained by the Township of Langley to help reverse the trends noticed in the Salmon River watershed. Moreover, the Water Management Plan conducted by the Township of Langley should be used to increase awareness of environmental issues and to help implement and evaluate initiatives. The Plan can be better utilized by: organizing the information to target specific water users including farmers, residents and private well owners, by increasing transparency of planning and updates to evaluate progress, and by using the recommendations to create and enforce mandates and legislation regarding water usage and runoff.     	   3	  Method    My conclusions were drawn from information found in literature including dissertations, government publications, peer-reviewed journal articles and municipal reports. The hydrometric data is taken from the Environment Canada’s archived online data collections from Station 08MH090 titled, “Salmon River at 72 Avenue, Langley”, and the Government of Canada’s historical climate data is used to illustrate annual precipitation trends in Station 71180, “Abbotsford A”. I graphed the calculated runoff data, the minimum daily flow data that provides the lowest flow on a particular day in the year and the precipitation data from the Abbotsford station. Finally, I interviewed members of the Langley Environmental Partners Society, the Salmon River Enhancement Society and the Township of Langley’s Environmental Coordinator to further my knowledge on watershed stewardship initiatives in both the Salmon River drainage basin as well as the Township of Langley in general. Please note that water quality issues may exist in the watershed however, they will not be addressed in this paper.   Baseline Conditions of Study Area  The Salmon River headwaters are located in the southwest portion of the watershed and flow northwest into the Fraser River (Fisheries and Oceans 2-89). The stream serves two significant purposes. Firstly, it has ecological importance in that it supports several different species of fish, including Coho and Sockeye salmon, Steelhead and is the only stream in the Fraser Valley to sustain the endangered Salish Sucker (Fisheries and Oceans 2-90). The middle reaches contain pools and riffles, gravel substrate, a constant summer baseflows and shade from overhead riparian vegetation, making it fish-friendly (Giannico, “Juvenile “16). The upper region of the stream however (East of 48th avenue and 256th Street) is not conducive to fish habitat due to a very low summer discharge and fine sand/silt substrates (Giannico, “Juvenile “16). Erosion-causing runoff from impervious surfaces and cleared land add to the level of river substrates. 	   4	  The second reason the river is significant to the region is because of its interaction with the Hopington Aquifer. The aquifer feeds into the river and also supports private residential wells and agricultural water usage (Giannico, “Juvenile “16). Therefore any residential wells not only affect groundwater levels, but also stream levels. Despite the mid stream’s natural fish-supporting habitat, agricultural and residential activities are currently threatening the livelihood of the system by changing the winter peak flow and runoff as well as minimizing summer baseflows. Discussion of Threats and Data Trends  It is evident from Environment Canada’s hydrometric data that there are two main hydrologic trends in the Salmon River. The first obvious trend is that there is an increase in annual runoff. Graph 1 below shows Environment Canada’s station 08MH090 data from 1970-2012. 1                     Source: Environment Canada. “Hydrometric Data: Station 08MH090, Salmon River at 72 Avenue, Langley”. Water Survey of Canada. Web. April 2010.   	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  1	  To calculate annual runoff, I took the sum of the daily station data for each year (m3/s) then divided by the drainage area provided by Environment Canada and converted values into mm/day.	  	   5	   Increase in runoff can reflect more impervious materials in residential areas however in this case it is more likely that increased runoff is correlated with land clearing for farming. In order to supply food for the predicted population growth, agriculture has shifted to more intensive farming that is more stressful on the environment (Giannico, “Juvenile” 14). To accommodate farming, land was cleared (McFee), riparian flora was removed and cattle crossing the river restricted vegetation growth (Giannico, “Juvenile” 22-23). This clearing and leveling of land has converted a percentage of infiltration into runoff making less of the rainfall recharge the aquifer levels. Agricultural activities cause erosion, higher levels of fine river sediment that result in fish mortality and over-extraction of groundwater in order to irrigate the crops.  Current urbanization in the Salmon River watershed is not a significant threat to runoff levels. The watershed has been protected from development as a result of a moratorium set in 1995 (McFee). Agricultural land reserve designation (ALR) currently restricts subdivision and development on lots to maintain food security and farming activities (Cook 50). However, there were hundreds of hectares (680ha as of 1999) that were excluded from ALR designation in order to minimize conflicts between current residents and farms (51). Additionally, low-density residential housing is slowly increasing. Although the current level of urbanization is not a substantial threat to the aquatic health of the watershed, it could be in the near future. Residents are now trying to increase density in the region by subdividing lots and there is pressure to convert current ALR zoned properties into urban lots (Township of Langley, “Application” 1). An increase in urbanization and vegetation removal will lead to increased runoff and will likely erode the riverbank, therefore negatively impacting fish stocks and habitat. Increases in runoff are detrimental to fish habitat, as they can wash away salmonid eggs from their redds, can displace fry and juvenile fish and can exhaust the fish especially if there is a lack of resting areas such as woody debris (Finkenbine et al. 1150). In summary, the river has experienced increased 	   6	  runoff since 1970 largely due to land clearing impacting the ability of the soil to infiltrate and likely not due to stress of urbanization. If the ALR properties undergo subdivision or development, urbanization will contribute to increased runoff.  The second trend evident from hydrometric data is the decrease in minimum seasonal flows from 1969-2012.  This trend is demonstrated in the graph below.   Graph 2. Seasonal minimum flows from station 08MH090, “Salmon River at 72 Avenue, Langley”.   Source: Environment Canada. “Hydrometric Data: Station 08MH090, Salmon River at 72 Avenue, Langley”. Water Survey of Canada. Web. April 2010.    The Hopington Aquifer feeds the stream throughout the year and this interaction is emphasized during low seasonal flows. Extraction of groundwater therefore has a direct impact on fish health and development. Decreasing water levels is indicative of increases in agricultural and urban activities in the watershed. This trend can also be attributed to the clearing and leveling of land (McFee). This clearing limits the soil’s capacity to infiltrate and impeded 	   7	  movement of water through root-formed macropores. The slight increase in impervious urban surfaces would also add to the subsequent lower infiltration rates that would reach the stream/groundwater (Finkenbine et al. 1149). Currently, the Township of Langley is expanding the municipal water supply into East Langley. Municipal water is a mix of reservoir water from the Coquitlam reservoir and Langley groundwater that is then distributed to residents. By extending this water to the residents and perhaps farmers in the uplands area, it would help reduce the stress on the Hopington Aquifer and the Salmon River (Township of Langley, “Construction”). The figure below illustrates the streams in Langley and where the East Langley Water Supply Project will cross the Salmon River in phase II of the construction.  Figure 1.Watercourse Classifications and fish-bearing streams (red) in the Township of Langley.                Source: Township of Langley, “Watercourse Classification”. Document Library. Feb 2014. <> 	   8	  The trends in increased runoff and/or decrease in water levels in the past 40 years are not due to dramatic changes in precipitation. The graph below shows the total monthly precipitation from a station in Abbotsford. The trend line indicates that there is no increase or decrease in total annual precipitation from 1972-2012. This suggests that increase in annual runoff is not due to increased precipitation.  Graph 3. Total Annual Precipitation data 1972-2012 in Abbotsford from station 71180                       Source: Government of Canada. “Abbotsford A, WMO ID 71108.” Climate: Monthly Data. Web.  The next graph shows the total summer precipitation in Abbotsford from 1972-2011. There is a slight decrease of ~7mm in precipitation in the months of May-August in the past 40 years, however this decline does not reflect the magnitude of water level declines in the Salmon River. This figure demonstrates that decreases in surface and groundwater levels are not due to a significant trend in precipitation decrease.  	   9	  Graph 4. Summer Precipitation data from 1972-2011 in station 71180 in Abbotsford.    Source: Government of Canada. “Abbotsford A, WMO ID 71108.” Climate: Monthly Data. Web.   Additional threats to the river’s aquatic health include channelization (Fisheries and Oceans 2-90) and dykes that have been placed near the river mouth and the low floodplain in order to prevent natural flooding from impacting surrounding farmland (Giannico, “Juvenile” 16) These threats impact discharge and fish migrations but are downstream from the hydrometric station and therefore are not reflected in the data.             	   10	  Critique of Management   In this section I will provide a brief summary of the Rural Plan of 1973, the Salmon River Watershed Management Plan of 1993 and the Water Management Plan of 2009 and suggest how they can be utilized and/or altered to improve the health of the Salmon River watershed. As explained previously, the Salmon River watershed is protected against development by means of Agricultural Land Reserve designations. Properties have been designated as ALR in order to preserve agricultural use, which contributes to the Township’s extensive food production. The Rural Plan of the Township of Langley was created in 1973 to protect agricultural land and industries in the area. The Rural Plan designated the Salmon River Uplands an urban area that had to have a minimum lot size of 0.5-2.5acres and set a larger minimum lot size of 1.7ha/4.2acres in the region between urban and agricultural zoning (Cook 52). However, no such guidelines were given to the Salmon River Uplands except for a general statement that the region “shall be maintained for rural residential and agricultural uses” (53). Currently, there is some confusion on the ability to re-zone residential lots in the Uplands. There are many subdivision applications being submitted by residents in the Salmon River Uplands, although the Rural Plan does not outline policies around ALR subdivisions in the area (Township of Langley, “Application” 2). Certain proposals have been denied based on the lack of guidelines on ALR subdivisions (1). In order to improve zoning and limits on urbanization, an updated plan and legislation must be set to confirm lot size requirements and policies related to ALR subdivisions specifically in the Salmon River Uplands. I recommend that the Agricultural Land Committee provide a document declaring policies of ALR subdivisions in the area and prepare strategies to prevent, mitigate and monitor any increase in runoff around the stream as well as over-extraction of groundwater in the summer months. As a result, this will prevent detrimental impacts on drinking water quality, river integrity and fish stocks. 	   11	  In 1993 the Salmon River Watershed Management Partnership was created to facilitate cooperative, community-based stewardship between governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as educational institutions (Cook 56). This partnership involved several different stakeholders including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the BC Ministry of Environment’s Department of Land and Parks, and other municipal and provincial government bodies. The management group has conducted a scientific survey of habitat sensitivity/vulnerability, which indicates ecosystem components that are difficult to restore and that are sensitive to environmental change (Giannico, “Management” 25). In his dissertation, Giannico critiques the SRWMP and suggests it lacks a management plan that clarifies the elements of the stream have conservation/protection priority, land use decisions that will protect those elements and mitigation plans if they cannot be fully maintained in their natural state (25).  The third management plan relating to the Salmon River watershed is the Water Management Plan. The WMP is a report with guidelines to protect Langley’s aquifers from overuse and contamination. Created in 2009, the WMP is a collaborative effort by the Inter-Agency Planning Team (the Township of Langley, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Lands) and includes participation in its development from, “residents, community groups, academics and researchers, government agencies and First Nations” (Inter-Agency). It guides “Township initiatives and water management decisions” (Hesketh). The document indicates that one of the main concerns in the Hopington aquifer is declining water levels and attributes this trend to over-extraction with the recommendation of a 30% decrease in groundwater use by 2020 (Inter-Agency 15).  The WMP also recommends drilling authorization with criteria for new wells and existing wells near fish bearing streams, municipal planning that mitigate development impacts on groundwater availability, public education on groundwater issues and sustainability and water conservation measures (5). This plan has an extensive list of very relevant recommendations to protect the health of the Salmon River and other water bodies 	   12	  in Langley however this plan is simply a list of recommendations and could be strengthened in three main ways: transparency, accessibility and enforcement. The Inter-Agency Planning Team members should support this report with updates to planning, and progress reports related to the recommendations listed in the report. This type of monitoring and updates allow an evaluation of the success of local initiatives and management strategies. Secondly, the information in the report itself should be condensed, organized and given to specific groups such as farmers or residents to educate specific individuals on how their activities impact their groundwater sources and local fish stocks. Targeting certain groups with specific literature will focus their efforts to prevent and mitigate their impacts on the Salmon River. Condensing the information and making it available to education programs and stewardship groups will also provide groups with a better sense of local watershed trends and will help shape programs with realistic goals set out by their municipality. Lastly, the report suggests having mandates and initiatives, which is commendable however; guidelines can only go so far. Turning some of the recommendations into actual initiatives and enforcing mandates is the next step for the WMP.  Interview Results and Recommendations In order to further understand the level of initiatives in the watershed, I interviewed Erin Enns and Lisa Dreves of the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS), Doug McFee, of the Salmon River Enhancement Society and Taryn Hesketh, the Environmental Coordinator for the Township of Langley. In order to make recommendations to reverse the trends in the Salmon River, I first needed to know what local initiatives were currently in place. All of those interviewed were asked about water conservation and runoff mitigation in Langley. Sprinkling bylaws help to reduce water usage and stage 3 restrictions limit outdoor water usage in areas such as Aldergrove, whose residents are solely using groundwater (Hesketh). One of the issues 	   13	  with the sprinkling restrictions however, is that they do not apply to private well owners, where groundwater extraction is not measured.  “Water Wise”, a successful water conservation program, informs residents of their drinking water source, the importance of conservation and how they can conserve water at home (Hesketh). While the program has been outreached to residents in the main neighbourhoods in Langley and pledges to limit sprinkling have helped conserve water, Doug McFee argues that it does not target the biggest water users: farmers and artesian well owners. It may be possible to extend the program to farmers and the industrial and commercial industries to inform big water users and runoff contributors that there are feasible mechanisms to mitigate impacts on the Salmon River. This summer, the B-Wet community restoration program, lead by LEPS, will be expanded to the Salmon River Watershed along the river. Environmental Coordinator, Taryn Hesketh, expressed a desire for the Township to expand its partnership with local stewardship groups and adopt a stewardship role to help manage restoration projects. While local initiatives at stewardship groups like the Salmon River Enhancement Society and education programs have helped to spread awareness of the issues, McFee argues that while, “residents are a lot more aware than they were that there is a problem but the big users don’t appear to have made significant changes”.  When asked about initiatives to decrease runoff, the message seemed hopeful for new communities. The Integrated Stormwater Management Plan helps to redirect stormwater in communities where more than 20% of the land is developed (Hesketh). Swale-type trenches in Routley are an example of tools used to increase infiltration in Langley, although it is unlikely that the Salmon River watershed will experience that level of densification, especially given current ALR titles. A more relevant idea to convert runoff into recharge may be a type of injection well. Already underway in the Yorkson watershed (Hesketh), installing an injection well or breaking the layer of clay in the aquifer would be a feasible option that could vastly 	   14	  improve recharge (McFee). Doug McFee argues that the distance from the clay level to the water table and the depth of sand is sufficient that groundwater contamination would not be an issue if the clay were perforated. Other land use solutions such as tree planting can really help to recharge the aquifer by means of the root macropores.   When discussing the feasibility of working with farmers to increase recharge and decrease runoff, the consensus was that such a partnership would be a provincial management issue, given that farming rights are a provincial matter (Dreves and Enns). If interested in taking on more responsibility in the agricultural sector, the Township of Langley could collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands if there was interest to expand technologies, conservation equipment and knowledge pertaining to efficient water usage (Hesketh). Provincial legislation and educational programs are necessary to have a significant impact on water usage in the Salmon River watershed. While plans and education programs have helped accumulate scientific findings on water levels, water quality and have also limited development in the Salmon River watershed, there is a lack of action to actually reverse the trends of increased runoff and decreased water levels. Provincial institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) really need to encourage sustainable and efficient agricultural technology and practices to protect aquifers and streams from over-extraction. Management by both the Township of Langley and the MAL can encourage restoration efforts, tree planting and tools such as injection wells which will help increase infiltration and decrease the percentage of runoff in the catchment.       	   15	  Conclusion  The Salmon River is an important local water body because it interacts with groundwater levels that supply agricultural and residential water usage and because it supports many fish species including the endangered Salish Sucker. In the past 40 years, the Salmon River has experienced decreases in water levels and increases in runoff. Land use and management plans have existed during that time and have helped gain knowledge on the state of the watershed.  While municipal and provincial initiatives have been critique by many, I conclude that there are three main approaches that will reverse trends noted above. Firstly, policies regarding ALR subdivision in the Salmon River uplands need to be set forth to prevent and mitigate runoff and over-extraction of water sources. Secondly, provincial efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands are needed to connect farmers with economically and environmentally sustainable and water-efficient technologies and equipment and should be complemented with policies that require sustainable irrigation. The only way farmers can adopt these habits and technologies is through provincial guidance, education and management. Finally, the Township of Langley can improve the condition of the catchment by collaborating with local and provincial education initiatives to industries and farmers and can continue and augment restoration programs. The information summarized in the Water Management Plan needs to be harnessed by increasing: the transparency of the municipal planning, the accessibility of the report and the level enforcement behind the recommendations. These improvements will spread awareness of the watershed’s problems and will help evaluate the success of initiatives implemented. Sufficient knowledge on the state of the Salmon River has been accumulated and now is the time for action.        	   16	  Works Cited  Cook, Kathryn. “An Evaluation of Water Quality and Land Use in the Salmon River Watershed, Langley, B.C Using GIS Techniques.” M.Sc. Thesis, Department of Soil Science, University of British Columbia, 1994. Dreves, Lisa and Enns, Erin. Langley Environmental Partners Society. 27 March 2014.  Finkenbine J., Atwater, J., Mavinic D. “Stream Health After Urbanization.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 36.5. (2000): 1149-1160. Web. Jan 2014.  Fisheries and Oceans Canada Dept. of Plant Habitat and Enhancement Branch and BC Ministry of Environment, Land and Parks, Lower Fraser Valley Streams Strategic Review. Vol 1 (1999). Web. Jan 2014. Giannico, G., Healey, M. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Integrated Management Plan for a Suburban Watershed: Protecting Fisheries Resources in the Salmon River, Langley, B.C.” Canadian Technical Report on Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2203. 1998. Web. Jan 2014. Giannico, Guillermo. “Juvenile Coho Salmon Habitat Utilization and Distribution in a Surburban Watershed: The Salmon River.” Diss. U of British Columbia, 1996. Proquest Digital Dissertations. Web. 24 Jan 2014. Hesketh, Taryn. Personal Interview. Environmental Coordinator at the Township of Langley. 31 March 2014. Inter-Agency Planning Team. Township of Langley Water Management Plan Final Report. 2009. Compass Resource Management, Vancouver, B.C. McFee, Doug. Personal Interview. Salmon River Enhancement Society. 25 March 2014. Township of Langley. Community Development Division. Provincial Agricultural Land Commission Application No. 100140. 2007. Report to Mayor and Council.   Township of Langley. “Phase II and III Construction”. East Langley Water Supply Project. 2014. <> 


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