Spotlight on The Okanagan River Restoration Initiative

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance  salmon
The Okanagan River Restoration Initiative will restore a portion of the Okanagan River to its original configuration and will provide critical habitat for indigenous Okanagan Basin fish such as sockeye salmon, and wildlife species at risk such as, Yellow Breasted Chat, Great Basin Spadefoot and Western Screech Owl. The designated site is a one-kilometer length of the river north of Oliver.

The Okanagan Watershed Fish-and-Water Management Tools Project

In 2001, scientists designed a leading edge system for improving flows in the Okanagan River. The system, called the Fish and Water Management Tool, helps experts’ select water flows that are optimal for fish and also protect against floods and drought.

The Tool collects information on lake and river conditions, snowpack levels, climatic conditions, and salmon life history and supplies it instantaneously via satellite to a computer. The computer then predicts the consequences of releasing various levels of flow through the Okanagan Lake dam and down the river.
Preliminary results suggest that it could increase sockeye salmon juveniles by as much as 50% without adversely affecting other water users.

The Sockeye Salmon Reintroduction Program

Okanagan River sockeye salmon, which spawn near the town of Oliver, B.C. have their farther upstream migration limited by several water control and diversion dams. Stock numbers have been declining for many years. The Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department (ONAFD) has been working with provincial and federal agencies to restore their numbers and range by reintroducing them into upstream waters where they may once have occurred in substantial numbers. Some investigators have warned that without effective intervention Okanagan sockeye are at risk of extinction.

In conjunction with the reintroduction, barriers that have limited upstream migration into Skaha Lake will need to be modified to allow fish passage. McIntyre Dam, located between Oliver and Okanagan Falls, has limited access since 1914. Modifications to the dam to allow fish passage is in the design stage. Almost 100 years after their migration route was cut off, salmon will have access to another 8km of the Okanagan River as well as to Vaseux Lake. Access to Skaha Lake however, is still dependent on the results of the 12-year reintroduction program.

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