Road sediment impacting fish habitat in Pennask watershed

Sediment harming streams

B.C.’s forestry watchdog is calling on the provincial government to do more to reduce the flow of sediment into fish-bearing streams across the province, including the Pennask watershed outside Kelowna. 

The Forest Practices Board released a report Thursday on how forestry and grazing activity is impacting five watersheds in B.C.

"We found that practices, such as maintaining fish passage and riparian management, are quite good," said Kevin Kriese, chair, Forest Practices Board. 

"However, sediment from roads was a high risk to fish habitat in three of the five watersheds assessed. The science is very clear that increased sediment in fish streams damages fish habitat. Greater attention must be paid to sediment management in all phases of a road, including design, construction, maintenance and deactivation."

The report examined the Pennask watershed, which supports the largest spawning population of wild rainbow trout in BC and is regarded by BC Parks as “an internationally significant rainbow trout brood fishery.”

About 40 percent of wild rainbow trout eggs for provincial hatcheries are obtained from an egg-take station located just upstream of the confluence of Pennask Creek with Pennask Lake.

The study found a significant source of sediment at the Highway 97C bridge crossing over Pennask Creek as well as powerline transmission corridors.

High existing or potential for sediment input was also found at two bridges over fish streams, one inside a cutblock and a 500-metre section of non-status road. The in-block road was the responsibility of a now-insolvent forest licensee, so the provincial government has taken it over.  

“Evidence of sediment deposition was observed at numerous other crossings but individually, the amount of deposition at those crossings would not likely result in material harm to fish,” the board report said. 

A fish-stream crossing was also used as a snow dump on the Sunset Main FSR and a stream near the acid rock drainage mitigation project along Highway 97C was observed to have sediment in the water. The acidic rock exposed by the construction on the Okanagan Connector has long been a risk to the watershed. 

The Forest Practices Board has recommended the government amend legislation to “ensure a clear and enforceable requirement to minimize the sediment entering streams during road construction, maintenance and deactivation.”

The full study can be found here.

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