The Salmon River diversion (on the right of the picture) presents a hazard to elk that get trap in the concrete channel.

BC Hydro to fence off death trap

A power-generating canal that has been a “torturous” death trap for Roosevelt elk will be fenced off by BC Hydro

A power-generating canal that has been a “torturous” death trap for Roosevelt elk will be fenced off by BC Hydro.

The Salmon River diversion canal, located west of the city and commissioned in 1958 to divert water from the Salmon River into the Lower Campbell reservoir, is a three-kilometre long concrete flume that has been the deathbed of at least five elk in the past two years.

Particularly in the winter, when everything freezes, it’s believed the elk slip and slide down the three-metre high concrete walls.

“They fall in and once they get their hooves wet, they can’t get out,” said Mike Gage, director of the Campbell River Salmon Foundation who found one elk carcass in the canal last spring and has seen pictures of four others. “It’s a horrible death, it’s not a quick death and they suffer.” He said when the canal is empty of water, the elk starve to death and if it’s full, they drown.

“It’s a torturous death for the elk and it’s so unnecessary,” said Gage, who has been fighting to have the canal fenced off for nearly two years.

He was disappointed when the Salmon Foundation and the Sayward Fish and Game Club’s joint application for a wildlife fence was turned down.

Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, said the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, which is a partnership between BC Hydro, the province and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that sets aside $1.6 million each year for projects that help manage the impact BC Hydro facilities have on the environment, rejected the proposal because it did not address the highest ranking issues in the coastal area.

But BC Hydro, as facility owner, conducted its own review into the public safety risk the canal presents and possible safety mitigation measures and as a result has decided to fence off the canal to limit potential falls.

“The implications could be serious from a three-metre fall into the canal if dry, or possibly drowning if water is being diverted,” said Watson. “BC Hydro is committing to the community that it will fence the length of the canal on both sides. The eight inch wood post and wire fence should address both public safety risk and prevent wildlife incidents. The fence can direct elk across the existing four bridges. Some sections of the canal will require chain link fencing, where danger to the public is greater and a higher level of access prevention is desired.”

Watson said the work, which will cost about $500,000, is expected to take about two months to complete and is anticipated to begin in late summer 2011.

The Salmon River Diversion Canal is typically used to divert water in the fall and late spring, early summer. BC Hydro only uses the canal when there is enough water in the Salmon River to do so and only when there is a need to divert water.

This year, with so much water expected to come from the upcoming snow melt, Hydro has yet to divert any water from the river and has no immediate plans to do so.

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