Stream projects ramp up through August 

Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group keeps eye on water quality

August is typically the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group’s busiest months, as crews take advantage of a window between spawning seasons to do in-stream work.

While there are no large-scale projects planned for this year, the WFSG is hoping to expand its water quality assessments for the valley, and organize some clean-up work.

"We’re trying to do as many creeks as we can," said Tobin Seagel, the new volunteer co-ordinator for the WFSG. "We typically monitor water quality on seven or eight creeks, but we’re hoping to expand the program. We’ve got a pretty good volunteer core this year."

Water quality in local creeks can change dramatically from year to year. By backtracking the problems to the source, water quality monitors typically discover human development is the cause, said Seagel.

Construction adds silt to the water, and the loss of trees and foliage along the banks of creeks can cause a significant increase in water temperatures. These factors can impact fish spawning in the short-term, and can even render a waterway unfit for aquatic life.

Developers have become more aware of the impact they can have in recent years, and are more careful when working around waterways. In addition, they must leave riparian zones along the sides of creeks, which provide shade and nutrients to the creek system.

Regular monitoring is the only way to determine where the problems are, whether a situation is getting better or worse, and whether any special projects are required to repair the creeks, said Seagel.

"We always need volunteers out there to keep an eye on what’s going on in our rivers," said Seagel.

The WFSG has trained a dozen people to use water sampling kits, which determine how much silt is suspended in the water, the pH level, the dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature. All of these elements have to be in balance for the health of fish and other aquatic life. To cover more streams, the group will need more kits in the next few years, but they have enough to take multiple samples in The River of Golden Dreams, Millar Creek, Scotia Creek, Crabapple Creek, Fitzsimmons Creek, Blackcomb Creek and Jordan Creek. For the first time, the WFSG also hopes to get water samples from 21 Mile Creek and the Cheakamus River.

In addition to monitoring water quality, Seagel is organizing a cleanup of the Fitzsimmons Creek on Sunday, Aug. 17 to "pull out all of the shopping carts," he said. He is hoping to have a strong volunteer turnout from the community for the project.

Another project he needs help with is the annual count of Kokanee salmon during the upcoming spawning period. Each volunteer will be assigned 100 yards of a stream, and once a week during spawning season they are asked to walk that section and count spawners.

Seagel will compile the data in September to get an idea where the fish are spawning, and in what numbers.

"The fish are important to Whistler. Not only do they monitor water quality for us and play a part in the ecosystem, they also are part of the industry of town. People come here to fish, and for the natural experience. They want to see fish jumping in the lakes," said Seagel.

"One thing we can do to ensure that we always have fish is to protect their habitats."

Stocking programs are also important because nobody knows what the original species were in Whistler’s lakes, said Seagel.

He pointed to a feature in Pique Newsmagazine last year by Eric Crowe that looked at records of sport fishing in Whistler to try and determine what species were found in the local lakes before stocking programs began.

"It’s the same all over the world. We screw it up once and spend the next 100 years playing with it, trying to fix it again," said Seagel.

If you want to volunteer to become a water quality monitor, or participate in the Fitzsimmons Creek clean-up or Kokanee monitoring program, you can contact Tobin Seagel at tseagel@hotmail.com.

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