This post is about wild salmon!

Feb 6, 2019 | Blog | 4 comments

Not all agricultural land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is created equally.

This statement is often used in an attempt to create an argument to free up the “unequal” land for development. That is not the case here. In fact, it’s very much the opposite.

Back in 2009, the District of Central Saanich was tussling with how to implement our newly minted Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP).

The plan offers recommendations on how to improve the hydrologic efficiency in the District. Or, how to move water more effectively.

It is a big plan. And, it’s an expensive plan. Due to these factors, it is a difficult plan for a District the size of Central Saanich to implement.

For decades farmers, and the District, have been augmenting the natural circulatory system of the area. The creeks and streams have been straightened into drainage ditches with the goal of removing as much water off of the land as early as possible, to increase agricultural viability, yield and profit. All of these are important considerations for farmers and the future of farming on the Saanich Peninsula.

It’s all about land use

But, it is not just the farmers in the District that have been changing the creeks and streams. The Municipality has also been one the biggest culprits of this. Past generations of Councillors spent little time considering the wellbeing of the watershed in the development of our community.

We can tour around the District and look at all the neighbourhoods that we live in and see how the design impacts the creeks and streams. In fact, one of the primary drivers for the ISMP is the development of the strawberry fields on Tanner Ridge into residential neighbourhoods. It increased flooding on the agricultural land below.

The commercial and industrial development in the Keating Business Park created problems downstream in the Hagan/Graham creek system. And, they put houses virtually right on top of Sluggett Creek.

There are consequences…

Engineers solved the water challenges with big pipes. Big pipes bring us water and big pipes take it away. With this “best practice” in place destroying the local watershed is of little consequence. Or, so we thought.

Unfortunately, it has big consequence.

Back to the agricultural land.

Maber Flats is a problem for the District. It’s a peat bog and the peat is deep there. Essentially, it is a really big sponge. It’s nature’s answer to stormwater detention. It regulates the flow of water from the Hagen/Graham system into the Saanich Inlet.

The wetland was an important harvesting area for the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Countless products came from the bog that were then crafted into rope, baskets, nets and so on. But, throughout the 20th century it was turned over for agricultural production. Each year the water was drained by altering the natural watercourses.

In the early 1970’s the land was added to the ALR, and it has been a battle of competing values ever since.

Whether on agricultural land or in commercial, industrial and residential neighbourhoods, each storm event creates huge volumes of water on the land. Pollution is gathered by the falling water, and instead of settling and being filtered in the peat bogs, it rushes down the hill and into the ocean.

We are hard on the land, hard on the ocean

We are hard on the land and as a result we are hard on the ocean. Our beaches are perpetually closed to the once abundant shellfish harvest, because of pollution.

Just a little further south is Tod Creek and the Tod Creek Flats. It’s another landscape that is now part of the ALR that has traditionally stored stormwater. The tongue-in-cheek “for sale” sign once read “seasonal water views” because it looked more like a small lake, than a field, for most of the year.

Tod Creek is critical habitat for coho salmon. And, every year they still fight their way back into the creek system looking for their home. This is how this long and winding story is really about salmon.

The ISMP recommended that the District of Central Saanich should construct a $10 million stormwater detention facility directly adjacent to the peat bog in Maber Flats. It is hard not to recognize the absurdity in that recommendation.

Instead of having a mature conversation about an arbitrary black line on a map, drawn frantically in the early 1970’s to create the boundaries of the much-needed Agricultural Land Reserve, the suggestion is to expend precious resources to build infrastructure that nature created better.

It’s insanity!

Please do not mistaken me for a person who is unsympathetic to the protection of agricultural land. That is not the case. Rather, I support a more comprehensive discussion about land use.

The provincial response

So, when I hear Minister’s of the Provincial Crown deflect questions about salmon to the federal government, because salmon is their responsibility, it drives me mad.

As a former Councillor in the District of Central Saanich, legislated by the Local Government Act, responsible for protecting the integrity of the Agricultural Land Reserve as created by the Agricultural Land Commission Act, I know that the provincial government is far more complicit in the health and wellbeing than we are willing to accept.

That is why the most important work ahead, if the province truly wants to protect wild salmon, is get to work on protecting habitat and investing in restoring habitat that has been destroyed by poor land use decisions mandated by provincial legislation.

And, that is not even the half of it!

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  1. Clayton

    Interesting Post! Maber Flats does not affect Salmon at all though, so really it shouldn’t be in this article. It’s actually more of a “sponge” now than it was in the 1970s, and any pollution that does go through there is just directly related to Keating Industry or Residential
    Development –

    • Adam Olsen

      Hey Clayton… Thank you for your response. The Hagan/Graham system drains into the Saanich Inlet which did. I used both Maber and Tod deliberately to show how decisions made decades ago do not adequately reflect the most appropriate land use. For sure there are many reasons for the pollution not the least of which is the Keating Business Park. AO

  2. Jan Steinman

    The creeks and streams have been straightened into drainage ditches with the goal of removing as much water off of the land as early as possible, to increase agricultural viability, yield and profit.

    Permaculture stresses the opposite: slow down water and keep it as high on the land as possible.

    We have a field that we couldn’t get into until July, without wearing “Frankenstein Boots.” We were advised by other farmers to put in drainage tiles and ditches, down the fall line. So instead we dug swales on contour to catch and store the water. The areas between the swales dried out earlier, so we could get in there and plant, but paradoxically, required less irrigation, as the swale, still flush with spring water, provided subterranean irrigation to the bed.

    This works for us, because we’re a high-labour operation. The standard reply you get from conventional farmers is, “How do you run a tractor in there, with all them swales?” How, indeed.

  3. Jacob Enns

    So well said Adam.
    This is the interconnectedness of all things. What we do to one we do to all.
    This goes beyond what we do to the land we do to ourselves, because we are not above the salmon or the birds, or even the insects; we are part of this web of life.
    I know that we are in for complex conversations on how we live in this world; with our seemingly competing needs and entrenched ways. Coming home to our true place in this world is a nessacarily tough journey into authenticity. Tough because the ‘truth’ of centuries of my white culture looking at the land as something to dominate to use for our own.
    Awareness can grow and it is a journey that can take time. Some people are not there – yet. I am now in my 50s and it took me a long time to see the truth of how I held myself separate from the earth. I worked in the sawmills. My family has farmers. The larger machines simply meant that we could have more impact more quickly.
    I solemnly salute the certain hope that Life has a way to thrive and heal.

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