Local Conservation Fund Feature: Enabling Abel Creek

This photo shows fish spawning in an area that has been devoid of Kokanee for over 60 years following the removal of the barrier on Abel Creek, which took place in 2015. Photo submitted

Located on the outskirts of Invermere in the Columbia Valley, Abel Creek is a healthy feeder stream for Lake Windermere that has the Paddy Ryan Lakes as its source (the lakes also provide drinking water to the District of Invermere).

Recognizing that native fish species were being prevented from accessing Abel Creek’s stable spawning habitat due to a man-made barrier on the creek, the Lake Windermere Rod & Gun Club removed the obstacle in the summer of 2015 and immediately observed kokanee moving upstream.

Rainbow trout were also subsequently observed during the spawning runs of 2015 and 2016.

Culvert 1 on Abel Creek preventing fish passage. Photo submitted

However, it was then discovered that a culvert more than 300 metres upstream from the first barrier posed another significant obstruction to migration as no fish were observed above the culvert during multiple observations over the two years. A second culvert higher up the creek was also identified as a limitation fish passage.

“Once this was discovered, additional funding was obtained from the Kootenay Conservation Program (through the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund), along with funding from the Lake Windermere Rod & Gun Club and in-kind contributions from Grizzly Ridge Properties Ltd. who contributed rock and heavy machinery along with an operator,” said project lead Ben Mitchell-Banks.

Culvert 2 also poses an obstacle to spawning fish. Photo submitted

The Abel Creek Culvert Rehabilitation Project, one of the 2017 projects funded by the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, aimed to construct weirs below the outfalls of the culverts to raise the water level, creating pools that fish can rest in and reducing the distance they must power up through moving water when ascending the culverts. It was concluded that once the two culverts were rehabilitated, fish would be able to access approximately three additional kilometres of prime spawning habitat.

But this past spring, it became apparent that the first culvert was internally damaged and bent, putting the project in a state of flux.

“The District of Invermere is going to have to replace the first culvert,” said Ben, adding the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club is pushing to have this happen next year. “The replacement will have to allow fish passage and meet Department of Fisheries and Oceans and provincial standards.”

The Water Act Approval required for the project was only recently received and consideration is now being given to conducting the culvert work later this fall (the fisheries timing window for Abel Creek is quite restricted as rainbow trout spawn in the spring and kokanee in the fall). If permitted, the club will be going ahead with the work on the second culvert and, should the engineer who is supervising the project agree that it’s feasible, a temporary weir will also be constructed at the outflow of the fractured culvert to help move fish upstream until a new culvert is in place.

“This work will ensure fish has clear passage to the entire length of Abel Creek,” said Ben.

Click here to read more about the removal of the man-made barrier on Abel Creek in 2015.