New salmon bed going in

Construction will start this August on a new salmon spawning bed under the Penticton Channel.

The new 500-metre-long bed is planned for the area between the golf bridge and KVR bridge abutments. It’s the fifth bed to be installed under the northern end of the channel, with previous installations taking place in 2014, 2015 and 1986.

Lee McFayden of the Okanagan Nation Alliance says all the beds they've restored so far have been well used by Sockeye almost immediately.

“It's been extremely successful, it kind of gives credence to that old saying, 'if you build it they will come.'"

Its expected the work this August will take about two weeks, involving spreading gravel into the channel from a platform. It will also include improvements to the 1986 Kokanee beds just north of the new site.

McFayden explained that the new bed is about as far south on the channel that a spawning bed would be viable.

“You can’t just build them anywhere. You have to build them in the river in an area where there is enough gradient to get adequate flow and enough depth,” she said, noting water flows further south are too slow and leave the eggs vulnerable to silt during heavy rains.

With spawning habitat already restored in the Oliver area in 2010, the area of the channel just south of the Penticton Dam — which has no fish ladder —is one of the last viable areas for spawning habitat on the Okanagan River.

“The long term plan is to install an up-to-date ladder at the dam, and let the fish have access to Okanagan Lake and their historical spawning grounds which are the various tributaries into Okanagan Lake,” McFayden said.

There is a “rudimentary” fish ladder on the dam now that isn’t in use, and there are discussions underway about modifying it, like what was done at the Okanagan Falls dam in 2014.

A notice on the Okanagan Nation Alliance website states Sockeye returns this year are coming in at the “higher end of the forecast,” which expects between 100,000 and 130,000 to cross the Wells Dam in Washington State. As of July 8, a total of 68,000 had crossed the dam, compared to just 41,000 in August last year.

The Okanagan River is the only B.C. river in the Columbia River basin with an intact Sockeye fishery.

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