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Low water adding to fish kill

by Rob Munro
The Daily Courier
October 5, 1994

In a year when the number of spawning kokanee has dropped dramatically, fish are dying because of lack of water in local creeks.

Bear Creek on the Westside dried up to a mere trickle last week until a man who jogs regularly in the area notified fisheries staff.

And, Powers Creek in Westbank was also unusually low.

“There’s no doubt we’ve been in a long dry spell,” fisheries biologist Steve Matthews said. “This problem has been around for a long time and is one of the major reasons kokanee are in a bad state right now.”
The jogger, who didn’t want his name published, runs along the Bear Creek trails every day. Bear Creek is about five kilometres north of Highway 97 along Westside Road.

One day the creek was flowing normally. The next, it was down to a mere trickle and hundreds of fish lay dying in shallow pools or on shore.

“Don’t tell me a river would cut off overnight,” he said. “Somebody diverted all the water.”

He estimated 700-800 fish died. He stepped on a few and eggs squished out so, obviously, they hadn’t spawned.

Their deaths came at the same time the number of fish spawning in Mission Creek was down to about half the normal level.

Matthews, who wasn’t able to view the Bear Creek kill himself, was skeptical about 700-800 fish dying.

“We don’t usually get a lot of production out of that creek because it always has flow problems,” Matthews said. “I’ve seen years when the fish couldn’t even get into the creek.”

When contacted by the jogger, Matthews called the irrigation districts and asked for help.

Lakeview Irrigation District is the main user on Bear Creek, but it was only using a small pipe open to take water, and that had been running for weeks before the water disappeared.

That was shut off and the Westbank Irrigation District diverted some water into the creek, so flow was restored quickly.

Westbank also put more water into Powers Creek, where the water was so low that fish couldn’t swim upstream to spawn. The creek flows into Okanagan Lake below downtown Westbank.

But, this fall’s weather has been unusual. The region has had mostly dry weather since early July.

While water supplies are low, the irrigation districts don’t fear any shortages.

The cooler weather helps since people aren’t watering as much and supplies to orchards are being cut off.