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River of Golden Dreams project a success

Weirs raise water levels, enhance fish habitat


The Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, along with local canoe and kayak tour operators and the RMOW, made use of a spawning window in August to do some work in the River of Golden Dreams.

By placing a system of three weirs in the narrow section between the outflow of Alta Lake and 21-Mile Creek, the groups managed to raise the water level in that section significantly. That will prevent boats from scraping the bottom during the summer months, create new spawning and habitat areas for fish, and cool down the water so it is more suitable for native trout species.

So far so good, says WFSG fish technician Veronica Woodruff.

"There are definitely fish in there. When we drained it before doing the in-steam work I think we counted about 20 trout, all good sized fish, and hundreds of sticklebacks. Now that the weirs are in, with all of the gravel and woody debris, we’re getting reports of a few Kokanee in the water. We know they’re back, but we don’t know in what numbers yet, but there’s no reason now for fish to stay out of the river." she said.

During the summer local canoe and kayak companies that rent boats and offer tours through the River of Golden Dreams system, helped to build a new portage from the first lake retention weir at Lorimer Road to the BC Rail Bridge, which they used during the summer when drought conditions lowered the water levels in the narrow section. The portage can also be used when water levels are high and it’s difficult to get under the rail bridge.

The companies have also agreed to stop tours during sensitive breeding times, including a two-week Kokanee window.

"We were a part of the whole process with the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group and the municipality, so we had a hand in the decision making process. We also sent volunteers to help out for a couple of days while the weirs were going in, because it’s our project as well," said Keenan Moses, the owner and operator of Whistler Eco-Tours, one of four operators taking tours through the river system.

The weirs themselves are shaped like the letter ‘V’, with notches in the middle to allow water and boats to pass through.

"There’s actually talk that we’ll be able to make these things bigger in the future to hold even more water back and bring the level up even more," said Moses.

The weirs and the portage could actually extend the season for tour operators using the area, even though the partnership with the WFSG and municipality will result in closures during sensitive spawning periods.

"Right now we’re closed for two weeks because of the spawning. It’s tough because rent doesn’t go away when there are fish in the river, but in the long run it’s better for everybody to have perfect functioning conditions in the river," said Moses.

"Fish are kind of like the canary in the coal mine – if they disappear, we might not even have a river to canoe on in a few years. If there’s anything we do can keep the fish, we’re happy to work with the fisheries group and the municipality to do it."

The municipality is currently also working on a carrying capacity study for the river, which should be completed this year. The carrying capacity will determine the impact of boats on the water, and could result in limits on the number of boaters through the system on a given day, or during a given season.

"The hope is that the (new weirs) will mean that we won’t have to shut the river down to boats in the future, that we’ll be able to keep most of it open, although there will be times, like spawning windows, that we’ll have to be a little more sensitive," said Woodruff.

"It’s a new approach for us, working with the tour companies, and so far it’s been really great. There have been issues with that river for years, so just to see the people who are using it do recognize that there are issues and offer to help out has been a real positive."

The funding for the weirs came from the Community Foundation of Whistler.

The first time Kokanee were spotted in the River of Golden Dreams was in 2001, with close to 6,900 fish counted that year. Records from 1980 show that there were fish in Scotia and Rainbow creeks, but nothing in 21-Mile Creek.

The timing of the weir construction on the River of Golden Dreams was also fortunate, with most of the Kokanee born after the successful 2001 run expected to return in 2005.