Part of my work as an environmental consultant sometimes included organizing fun and fulfilling events that help the environment and bring a community together in stewardship. Some time ago I participated in a stream clean up as part of a larger project to improve a watershed used by a unique fish population.
Sweltzer Creek, which flows out of Cultus Lake in British Columbia and eventually connects to the Pacific Ocean, is a migration corridor for a unique sockeye salmon population. After living for four years in the ocean, the sockeye return via Sweltzer Creek in the fall to spawn in Cultus Lake. Cultus Lake is a beautiful lake, formed in the last Ice Age and nestled in the temperate rainforest of the great Fraser River floodplain. Besides supporting the unique Cultus sockeye salmon population, it is also the home to the rare pygmy sculpin and the coastal tailed frog, among others. According to First Nations, the lake was a spiritually powerful place; so popular for spiritual quests that its special power dwindled, giving the lake its Chinook name (which means “useless”). The thousands of recreational visitors to the lake don’t think so, though. The lake has experienced a large influx of visitors—and related impacts—in the last years.
There was a time when more than 70,000 fish returned to spawn; in later years the population has declined to fewer than 500 returning sockeye. Scientists blame over-fishing, warmer ocean temperatures from El Niño and a high pre-spawning mortality caused from early migrations with associated infections.
Sweltzer Creek is a short, relatively shallow stream with little channel complexity and temperatures that get too warm for the salmon during their migration in the creek. Anything that delays the passage of the fish could threaten them.
The clean up was well-attended by the local First Nations, other members of the community and government officials. Local businesses kicked in food, drink and prizes. Ultimately, a significant amount of garbage was collected from the creek and its banks and disposed. Garbage included recyclables (bottles, pop and beer cans), plastics, tires and metal.
Everyone got sweaty and dirty but the task was fulfilling. Plus there were those over 10 dozen Krispy Kremes and copious amounts of Starbucks Coffee waiting for us at the end…
Here are some tips to keep your local streams healthy:
- consider hand-pulling weeds and using insecticidal soap instead of using weed killers and other pesticides
- don’t over-apply chemicals (if you need to use them); use spot treatments over general broadcast herbicides and spray on windless days and not during or before rain
- encourage insect-eating birds and friendly insects (e.g., spiders, ladybugs and lacewings which eat pest insects); attract birds with tree cover
- don’t dump chemicals and paint into household toilets, sinks or outside ditches or streams
- fix oil and transmission leaks in your car; don’t dispose of used oils and antifreeze into gutters or storm drains (which lead into your local creek)
- wash cars with a minimum of detergent and never dump leftover detergents or cleaning compounds into gutters or storm drains
- sweep your walks and driveways; hosing washes litter and pollutants into storm drains and streams
- avoid paving your lot and consider using porous asphalts, paving stones or bricks that let the water seep into the ground and recharge the soil rather than flow quickly into streams