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‘Undo some of the harm’: Fish return to View Royal creek at transit construction site

Work to restore the creek has seen juvenile coho salmon and cutthroat trout swim in the stream

Fish fans can rejoice at the news coming out of the restored creek at BC Transit’s handyDART centre in View Royal.

Juvenile fish - 20 coho salmon and seven cutthroat trout - have been found swimming in the small creek running through the property.

Teams checked the stream for fish using an electrofisher and measured them to gather data about their age and health. Those fish are fat and healthy, according to Cori Barraclough, an aquatic ecologist with Aqua-Tex, a company that helped to design the new route for the creek and is monitoring the site as the new bus yard is constructed.

The find represents a success for her team that’s been working to restore the creek that has been depleted over the years.

“The intent from the beginning was to try to undo some of the harm that’s been done by many developments over the years,” said Barraclough.

“That particular site was where a lot of the fill was placed when the Vancouver Island Highway project was built and the stream was put just in a very over-straightened channel. There was no particular habitat around it, there were a few blackberry bushes and things, but the habitat was quite poor.”

There were originally two coho found in the river when the project started, but the area was in poor condition. By diverting the creek around the new handyDART site, the flow of the creek was slowed, allowing smaller fish to rest and feed. There’s also been work done to plant riparian plants - commonly found along a river bed - to help build the habitat and provide shelter. The site was assessed and certified by Salmon-Safe BC, a program of the non-profit Fraser Basin Council.

“Once those things happen, we hope that even more juveniles will come back,” Barraclough said. “We don’t think that at this point that it’s ready to be a spawning channel, we don’t think the water there’s enough water for a prolonged enough period and deep enough for full-sized salmon to get up there. Maybe spawning for trout, we’ll have to see. But certainly, it’s really important as an overwintering habitat for juvenile fish. Even if that’s all it ever does, it will be a resounding success.”

Barraclough added that those overwintering habitats for smaller fish - the smaller, slower-flowing creeks - are commonly lost as development happens.

“The little fish in the big flows in Craigflower Creek spend a lot of energy just trying to feed and trying to swim in the strong current,” Barraclough said. “These little, tiny channels are a place for them to get out of those fast waters and get calmer water, more food and they spend less energy. That means they can grow better, and the bigger they are when they go out to sea, the more likely they are to survive. So these rearing streams are extremely important.”

Located at the corner of Burnside Road West and Watkiss Way in View Royal, the new handyDART centre will replace the existing one on Glanford Avenue in Saanich which is far overcapacity, according to Levi Timmermans, director of infrastructure management at BC Transit, who spoke with Black Press back in May 2022.

The new site is forecast for completion in late 2024 and will have far more space for handyDART buses, allowing for over 100 vehicles from the current centre’s capacity of around 50. Aqua-Tex is monitoring the construction work throughout the process to ensure there isn’t sediment or any leaks falling into the creek – Barraclough said the crews had been working well so far.

Down the line, potentially some eggs could be introduced to the creek to see it established as a spawning site like has been done at other sites like at Bowker Creek, Barraclough said, but more monitoring and testing will need to be done before that can happen.

READ MORE: PHOTOS: New handyDART centre in View Royal tackling bus capacity, creek challenges

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