Reconnecting Canada: Project Update – Waiparous Creek, Alberta: Trout Unlimited Canada’s ongoing “Reconnecting Canada” campaign aims to remove harmful barriers from streams across the country. Suspended culverts at road crossings and other such features not only prevent fish passage, but can also alter the way the stream flows and lead to increased erosion, sedimentation, and warmer water temperatures.
TUC identified two crossings over unnamed tributaries of Waiparous Creek, northwest of Calgary, with hanging culverts that prevent fish from moving upstream. Two native fish listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act, Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus) and Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi), were found in both streams during electrofishing surveys. While Bull Trout were found below both culverts, none were found upstream – suggesting that these culverts present a complete passage barrier to upstream fish migration.
Currently, design options for improved crossings that do not alter fish passage or streamflow are being explored by TUC, and communications are underway with stakeholders who would be affected by road construction.
Before anything can be done about the crossings, however, results from genetic analysis must be considered. Trout populations from above and below each barrier were sampled to gain more insight into the populations, especially the Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and samples were sent to the Flathead Biological Station in Missoula, MT for further analysis. Since Westslope Cutthroat Trout can interbreed with Rainbow Trout (which are not native to the area), many Cutthroat Trout streams in Alberta actually contain “Cutbow” hybrids. Tests will determine if the upstream population is genetically pure, in which case reconnecting the stream will need to be considered against the risk of invasion by non-native Rainbow Trout.
In the meantime (test results are pending), habitat restoration upstream of the barrier began on one of the two streams in 2020, and problem areas have been surveyed on the adjacent stream for future efforts. TUC, Alberta Environment and Parks, and volunteers from Plains Midstream Canada (PMC), Calgary ATV Riders Association (CARA), and the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS), collectively participated in several workdays on this stream in 2020. Reclamation work included upgrading an existing off-highway vehicle (OHV) bridge, deactivating several other non-designated crossings and areas where OHVs could access the stream bed, and planting over 1500 live willow stakes along the bank and along deactivated trail sections.
Several other non-designated OHV fords have been identified on the streams that are creating partial barriers, altering streamflow, and introducing excess sediment to the streams. One reach of the western stream is currently flowing down a straight and shadeless historical trail or road rather than in its original meandering channel through tall shrubs, making it poor trout habitat! Options for correcting this problem soon are being explored, including returning the stream to its original channel, or systematically reclaiming the scoured channel into a healthier stream bed with riparian vegetation, cut banks, and bends. This work is planned to resume in the spring, so keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities if you’re available!
Funding for these surveys and treatments has come from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, the Alberta Land Stewardship Centre’s Watershed Stewardship Grants, the Alberta Conservation Association, and the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk through a grant agreement with Alberta Environment and Parks, as part of Alberta’s Native Trout Collaborative.