Penticton Creek Restoration Initiative

In the province of B.C., we are blessed with many beautiful lakes, rivers, and streams right at our back doors. Perhaps it is this apparent bounty of water that leads us to take these treasures for granted, and not provide them with the space and protection needed. It is an unfortunate reality that many fish-bearing streams within the populated areas of British Columbia have been effectively turned into ditches, storm drains, or flood control works. An extreme example of this situation is in the South Okanagan’s city of Penticton, where Penticton Creek – a rare source of cold, clean, fish-bearing water – has been confined to a concrete flume since the 1950s. The stream does not appear to hold any potential for fish production in its current state, yet remarkably, a small remnant population of kokanee return each year. The few bright red kokanee that return to struggle up this overlooked stream each year have been enough to inspire change in Penticton: a long and challenging process to bring back some of the creek’s fish-producing potential is underway.

The remaining kokanee in Penticton Creek can thank the hard work of local volunteers from the Penticton Flyfishers for their existence. This group has worked annually to add temporary resting spots, fish ladders, and gravel in two small spawning beds that give the fish some chance of producing the next generation. The long-term efforts of these volunteers have resulted in an annual return of about 2,000 to 4,000 spawning kokanee. Sadly, very few of the returning spawners (15% on average) are able to successfully ascend through the damaged stream to reach the spawning grounds. The problem is that returning fish must first successfully navigate the extremely challenging lower kilometre of Penticton Creek – merely a shallow and steep concrete flume.



In the past four years, the Penticton Flyfishers and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC have been getting their hands wet and working more directly with the fish. Each fall, they place a fence in the mouth of Penticton Creek that allows them to count every single returning kokanee as they pass upstream, as well as take some of their eggs into incubation jars in a creek-side trailer. These efforts effectively allow the kokanee life cycle to bypass the in-gravel egg incubation stage that had, for most fish, been eliminated by the concrete lining. Fry are released back into the stream in the spring, and the first spawner returns from these efforts are expected in the fall of 2018. It is hoped that fish returning from these efforts will demonstrate the potential of Penticton Creek to naturally produce kokanee if appropriate habitat can be restored.




An initiative to more permanently restore some of Penticton Creek’s fish-producing potential has also begun. The city’s Penticton Creek Restoration Committee has worked hard to create a masterplan for the long-term restoration of the stream, while at the same time ensuring flood safety is maintained or improved. In 2015, the first step in stream restoration was achieved within an 83-metre section of stream in the heart of downtown Penticton. The concrete liner was removed, the channel was widened, and the stream bed was converted back to natural rock and gravel with a series of pools and riffles. The primary funding for this project was tied to recreational angling through the Recreational Fisheries Partnership Program (DFO), Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. The City of Penticton was the other major funder, and supplied substantial in-kind time. Funding from these same sources has been obtained to perform a second restoration project that will extend initial work a further 80 metres to the next bridge during the summer of 2018.



 

Overall, Penticton Creek is now receiving some long-overdue attention and support, but a long road remains ahead. Given its location within the urban core of a city, we will likely never see the stream restored to its full fish-producing potential, but it could once again become one of Okanagan Lake’s major spawning tributaries for both kokanee and rainbow trout. In the hot and dry climate of the Okanagan Valley, this stream provides a rare opportunity to bring back some of the world record-sized kokanee and giant rainbow trout that are known to exist in the area’s main lakes.

Author: Paul Askey; Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Staff
Photo and Video Credit: Paul Askey; Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Staff & Jody Good; Mould Engineering