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Report from the Chair
Comox Valley Project Watershed Society was established in 1993 by a small group of citizens concerned by declining fish stocks, water quality, and urban development in the watersheds of the Valley. Rapid population growth and the corresponding urbanization of watersheds had led to large areas of environmentally sensitive land being utilized for development purposes. Fish and wildlife habitats in streams, wetlands, and foreshore areas were becoming more and more degraded as a direct result of settlement pressures. Baynes Sound was of special concern as it was experiencing deteriorating water quality as a result of non-point source pollution and the degradation of its source waterways. Project Watershed worked on remediation and stewardship initiatives designed to improve water quality in the Sound. Together with other stakeholders, Project Watershed delivered numerous remediation and water quality monitoring projects to identify and clean up non-point source pollution. 2010 has been a remarkable year. Numerous projects have been undertaken. This report organizes a summary of each project under four program areas: Puntledge River Research and Restoration The Courtenay River Estuary Education and Outreach The Mapping Centre
Project Watershed might best be described as an organic organization that, much like an ecosystem, is both complex and interconnected. Thus, all technical projects proposed by the Estuary Working Group are approved and overseen by the Technical Committee. Similarly, projects undertaken by the Estuary Working Group to promote public awareness of the estuary invariably finds support and input from the Education and Outreach Committee. It often takes some time for new members of the organization as well as new members of the Board to determine who is doing what and how things are getting done. On one level, much is getting done as will be seen from what
has been accomplished in this past year - Project Watershed often receives comments from representatives in other agencies in the Province expressing amazement when they see how much is happening here in the Valley.
Thanks to Staff and Board Members
On behalf of the Board, I want to thank our creative and dedicated staff and contractors - Caila Holbrook, Joanne Ellefson, Don Chamberlain, and Valeri Diamond who continually contribute 110% in all they do, offering ideas, attending to details, and giving of their time. And a big thank you to the working Board members - Paul Horgan (Vice Chair), Don Munroe (Secretary/Treasurer), Betty Donaldson, Wayne White, and Bob Hauser who as stated are working Board members in the truest sense.
The Challenges Ahead
As with many environmental organizations in the Province a major source of funding from the BC Lottery has been withheld this coming year, increasing the need to find alternative sources of funding to carry out our work. At the same time, there is an ever increasing need to protect our watersheds and environment. We welcome and encourage volunteers to join us in our endeavours.
Don Castleden, Chair
Puntledge River Research and Restoration Program
Technical Committee Chair: Bob Hauser
• Chinook and Coho Smolt Migration Study
Recent studies have clearly demonstrated that the best survival strategies for summer Chinook adults involve migrating into Comox Lake before August, holding in the lake during the summer, and then spawning in the upper watershed or the headpond reach (between the diversion and reservoir dams). This holds true for coho adults as well. In both cases, there is ample high quality spawning and rearing habitat for this species in the upper watershed. In the spring and summer of 2010, an assessment of chinook and coho smolt migration was implemented to assess the timing of coho and chinook smolt migration, providing estimates of the numbers of fish migrating from the upper watershed. The goal was to evaluate the overall success of enhancing upper watershed production of these salmon stocks.
Puntledge Chinook Spawning Behaviour Study
The Puntledge River Chinook salmon population includes both an endangered early summer‐run stock and a much larger fall‐run stock. Beginning in 2009, a multi‐year study was begun to observe spawning interactions between the fall and summer Chinook. The study will determine whether there are significant levels of cross breeding between these two runs. If the study confirms that most summer and fall chinook adults mate only within their own genetically unique stock, DFO will consider allowing access to the upper watershed for both runs where they can access the significantly more and better spawning habitat for salmon.
The Design of a Chiller for the Puntledge Hatchery and the Holding of Summer Chinook at the Big Qualicum Hatchery
Summer‐run chinook salmon adults held at DFO’s Puntledge Hatchery during the summer are at risk of dying before they spawn due to high water temperatures. The hatchery’s water supply is obtained from the Puntledge River, which usually exceeds 20oC in the summer, sometimes reaching 24oC. Such warm water induces stress and disease problems in adult salmon, leading to high mortality rates, poorer quality of eggs in the females that do survive, and lower survival rates for offspring. As a solution, the Puntledge Hatchery has initiated a plan to transport Chinook broodstock to the Rosewall and Big Qualicum Hatcheries. This past year,
Project Watershed supported the installation of two additional holding tanks at the Qualicum Hatchery to handle Puntledge summer Chinook. There are plans to install a new chilled‐water holding tank at the Puntledge River hatchery in 2011. This will allow small batches of returning adult summer chinook to be acclimatized to cooler temperatures before
being transported to the Big Qualicum Hatchery during the migration period, increasing the survival rate of all hatchery broodstock and helping rebuild the summer chinook population to their historical abundance. Funder (above projects): The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, a partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of BC, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Courtenay River Estuary
Estuary Working Group Committee Chair: Don Castleden Estuary Coordinator: Caila Holbrook
Estuaries are nutrient rich environments where fresh water from mountain slopes and forest uplands mix with the salt sea water. They are often recognized by the broad mud flats visible at low tide and by the expansive flood plains through which mature rivers wind as they seek their outlet to the sea. The Courtenay River Estuary is one such place where the waters of the Puntledge, Tsolum, Trent, and Millard Piercy Rivers as well as Brooklyn Creek enter the sea. It is the most important estuary on Vancouver Island, ranked as a Class 1 estuary, second in importance only to the Fraser River Estuary. The classification is based on habitat size, intertidal biodiversity and use by fish and waterfowl. This estuary provides habitat for 145 bird species (more than 70,000 birds), 218 plant species, 29 fish species (including all five species of pacific salmon) and innumerable species of intertidal animals (clams, worms, microbes, etc.). Yet the Courtenay River Estuary is in the middle of an urban area with the Town of Comox, City of Courtenay, the Comox Valley Regional District and the K’omoks First Nation bordering its shores. Damaging industries which for a century were located on its shores resulted in a decline of the estuary. These industries have virtually all disappeared and healing of the ecosystem has now begun. Project Watershed along with other community organizations and government are now working together to restore and protect this vital area. • Courtenay River Estuary Salt Marsh Study A preliminary study to determine the feasibility of increasing water flow through a salt marsh, known as the Air Park lagoon, was undertaken in the summer of 2010. Further studies are required to determine the possible toxicity of the sub surface of the marsh as the area once functioned as a sewage lagoon for the City of Courtenay. This is required before any remedial work can be undertaken.
• Restoration and Protection Options for Juvenile
Salmonids in the Courtenay River Estuary
Project Watershed conducted a study investigating how juvenile chinook and coho salmon use the Courtenay River Estuary during the spring and summer months. The data has identified several areas as important for salmon rearing, including the Dyke slough, the Royston eelgrass beds, the Airpark lagoon, Simms slough, and the Tsolum Relic channel. Data for this study was collected during the spring and summer of 2010. Volunteers captured fish at various locations in the estuary, recorded water quality information and collected benthic (bottom dwelling) samples to be analyzed for the presence of fish food organisms in the water column. In addition to this data collection, key salmonid rearing habitats were mapped to show what types of vegetation were present and what the landforms were like. The collected data will be analyzed and the resultant information will be used to identify important characteristics of healthy salmonid rearing environments as well as identify opportunities to increase estuarine health through restoration and protection projects. The next phase for the study will be project feasibility discussions involving key stakeholders who will have an opportunity to provide input on, or participate in, restoration and or protection project implementation. Funder of the Above Two Projects: The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, a partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of BC, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. • Population Diversity in Puntledge River Coho Project Watershed has supported a study undertaken by Lora Tryon (Master’s student, Royal Roads University, Environmental Management Program). The study will help identify the role of life history diversity in the survival of Puntledge coho salmon and in so doing identify opportunities to support sustainable local salmon populations. Funder: BC Hydro and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Forage Fish Citizen Science Project
A Citizens Science Project to identify forage fish spawning habitat in the intertidal zone in the Courtenay River Estuary is being led by Ramona DeGraff (Pacific Marine Station, Bamfield) began in 2009 and continues. Forage fish are small fish (herring, smelt, sand lance) that are a critical food source for larger fish and bird populations. Interested local volunteers formed groups of 2-4 with each group responsible for sampling a 1 km section of beach every few weeks over a 1-2 year
period. Two forage fish beaches have been identified - Union Point and Goose Spit. Volunteers are needed to continue sampling Goose Spit beach.
Archaeological Research Researcher: Nancy Greene
Project Watershed continues to support the research of local archaeologists Nancy Greene and David McGee relating to the ancient Indigenous Fish Traps in the Courtenay River Estuary. The corral like structures that once stood in the estuary were built with long wooden stakes pounded into the sediment. Over 13,000 stakes have been mapped. These represent a fraction of the estimated 150,000 stakes thought to be buried in the mud. Nancy and David’s study, due to be published this year, is expected to establish our local estuary as one of the most important archaeological sites on the west coast of North America.
Stick in the Mud Club Convener: Jim Gillis
Project Watershed along with other organizations and community members helped to financially sponsor the radiocarbon dating of 46 stakes for the Fish Trap Study. Funds were raised through a creative sponsorship initiative. The name “Stick in the Mud” Club was coined by Town of Comox Mayor Paul Ives and Area B Director Jim Gillis.
National Historic Site Status for the Courtenay River Estuary Committee Chair: Paul Horgen
The size and scope of the archaeological evidence found in the Courtenay River Estuary is quite astounding. Based on this, Project Watershed has taken the lead in coordinating a submission to the National Historic Site and Monument Board of Canada to seek National Historic Site status for our Estuary.
“Keeping It Living” Campaign Committee Chair: Paul Horgen
This campaign, designed to build awareness of and support for the Courtenay River Estuary, has seen full page ads promoting the estuary run in a local newspaper, an online art auction supported by contributions from local artists, and a ‘Day of the Estuary’ event held in April featuring keynote speakers, displays, estuary walks, a seine net demonstration, a ``wise women’s forum”, salmon barbeque, and recognition of two individuals for outstanding contributions made to protect the environment and watersheds in the Comox Valley - Norma Morton (recipient: Keeping It Living Life Time Achievement Award) and Nick Strussi (recipient: Watershed Achievement Award).
Land Acquisition Task Force Committee Chair: Bev Bravender
This new task force has been established to develop a strategy to acquire and/or protect land in and adjacent to the estuary. This effort will be carried out in partnership with other organizations and governments in the community and the province. Three sites have been prioritized - the Field Sawmill site, the LaFarge property (former site of cement tower) and the Billie property, all former industrial sites in the estuary.
Education and Outreach
Commit tee Chair: Betty Donaldson
Project Watershed’s revitalized Education and Outreach Committee has taken its first steps in building a relationship and program with North Island Community College and School District #71. The goal is to provide educational opportunities and resources for teachers and students. • Streamkeeper & Wetlandkeeper Courses A Wetlandkeeper Course was offered over 2 ½ days last fall. Participants had an opportunity to practice hands on wetland conservation skills. The course combined classroom instruction with a day spent in the field, identifying and mapping a wetland and conducting plant and bird inventories.
• ElderCollege Courses
Project Watershed participates in facilitating the presentation of ElderCollege courses at North Island College. Last fall Project Watershed presented a course entitled ‘Estuary at Risk’ that covered the biology of estuaries and the specific characteristics of the Courtenay River Estuary; the history of European settlement around the estuary; a discussion of the Courtenay River estuaries’ ancient fish traps; and a review of the Courtenay River Estuary Management Plan (CREMP). Geocache Your Watershed Project The 2010-2011 geocache project, Geocache your Watershed, is a continuation of a geocache program implemented in 2009 to highlight Project Watershed’s Puntledge Watershed Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP). The basic idea of geocaching is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, in the watershed and then to share your experiences online. In February, a geocache was initiated on the Puntledge River Watershed where participants learned about the research, restoration, and assessment projects underway that are designed to return the Puntledge River Summer Chinook to historic levels.
Volunteer and Membership Program
Volunteer Coordinator: Valeri Diamond
Project Watershed launched a new Volunteer & Membership Program through funding provided by a Job Creation Partnership (JCP) contribution received from the Ministry of Social Development, funded in whole or in part through the Canada‐British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement. The program enabled Project Watershed to hire Valeri Diamond, as a volunteer coordinator. During her six month contract she has been able to develop a volunteer program which has involved recruiting, managing, and recognizing the work of volunteers. A volunteer handbook has been created that outlines the initiatives, programs, activities, basic
personnel policies, practices and procedures of Project Watershed. Valeri’s position has evolved into a part-time Fundraising and Outreach coordinator position to help Project Watershed manage volunteers, members, educational events and fundraising. With Valeri’s guidance, volunteers have been able to create display booths for Project Watershed that have informed the community about our work at events such as Earth Day, Music Fest, Market Day, The Big Time Out and the Comox Valley Exhibition.
The Mapping Centre
Busine ss Manager: Caila Holbrook
The Mapping Centre is a well equipped resource centre with the capability of producing detailed maps of watersheds and special features of interest to individuals, environmental groups, local businesses and government. This fall the Mapping Centre designed a colour 9 x 7 foot air photo illustrating watersheds, lakes, rivers and mountains of the Comox Valley. It is available in smaller versions for office and home use. The Centre also produced a `Commuter Bike Map’ for the Broken Spoke, a local bike shop, noting roads with bike lanes, cycle friendly roads and high volume traffic areas. The Mapping Centre is currently collaborating on a Comox Valley Conservation Strategy Atlas. This online interactive map will display hyperlocal environmental information. You will be able to zoom into an area of interest, turn on or off data, find place based information, and more. All of these achievements have been realized through the work of Project Watershed’s mapping team: Don Chamberlain - GIS Coordinator, Caila Holbrook - Business Manager and Mark Schroeder - GIS Technician. Mark joined the team through a six month Job Creation Partnership with the Ministry of Social Development.
Representation of Project Watershed in Other Organizations
Comox Valley Conservation Strategy Representative: Betty Donaldson PW
CVCS represents 16 environmental organizations in the Valley. CVCS has worked assiduously over this past year to advocate for the environment in
planning initiatives being pursued in the Comox Valley, notably the Comox Valley Growth Strategy. In their advocacy, they are guided by the Nature Without Borders document developed by the Comox Valley Land Trust.
Courtenay River Estuary Management Plan Review Committee (CREMP)
Ten members of Project Watershed’s Estuary Working Group, seven of them representing partnering organizations, serve on the Courtenay River Estuary Management Plan Review Committee. This Committee, under the leadership of Kent Leontowich (Regional District Planner), has been reviewing and revising the 2000 CREMP document. The revised CREMP is expected to be forwarded to the Regional District, K’omoks First Nation, and local Municipal governments for consideration late this spring.
Addendum: Corrections and Additions to the Chair’s Report Archaeological Research Greene & David McGee Researchers: Nancy
Project Watershed supports the archaeological research known as the Comox Harbour Fish Trap Mapping Project. This research project was conceived and is being carried out by local archaeologists Nancy Greene and David McGee. The research involves the mapping of ancient Indigenous fish traps in the Courtenay River Estuary. The corral like structures that once stood in the estuary were built with long wooden stakes pounded into the sediment. Over 13,000 stakes have been mapped. These represent a fraction of the estimated 150,000 stakes thought to be buried in the mud. Nancy and David’s study, due to be published this year, is expected to establish our local estuary as one of the most important archaeological sites on the west coast of North America.
Comox Valley Conservation Strategy
CVCS represents 18 environmental organizations in the Valley.
Eelgrass Restoration Pilot Project Coordinator: Caila Holbrook
In early March, 2011 Project Watershed held a two day workshop on the ecology and importance of eelgrass, how it can be mapped, and how eelgrass beds can be monitored. A half day of classroom instruction was followed by a one and a half day field experience in which participants practiced mapping and monitoring eel grass beds along with planting a number of specimens in the estuary.
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