It was Father’s Day 2013. I was on a tour of the Dasque and Middle Creek Run of the River project with members of the Kalum LRMP’s Planning and Implementation Committee. Our first stop was on the Dasque where we looked across the massive man made box canyon then down to the river.
On the far side a large loader and a rock truck looked like Tonka toys. The massive pit that had been blasted out of rock to make room for the powerhouse and penstocks extended right to the river.
The river was just past peak flows. Dasque is more of river than a creek, just like Kleanza and Fiddler are. It was only the second time I’d seen it, and the first time I’d seen the upper part of the river.
In all my years fishing the lower Skeena, I’d always yielded to the Lakelse River’s charms, turned onto the Lakelse Main instead of keeping to the Whitebottom Main, which would have taken me to Dasque. The stream reminded me of the upper reaches of Kleanza Creek. The falls we were staring down upon were not nearly as formidable as those on Kleanza Creek, those on the Zymoetz, or the falls on the Zymacord.
If I’d made my way to Dasque and up the logging road to look for steelhead I would have hunted them above the falls. In Kleanza you can be lucky enough to catch a traveling steelhead below the lower canyon, but the majority of the fish and the good angling is found above it.
The same holds for the Zymoetz. There is plenty of exhilarating steelheading for moving steelhead available below the Zymoetz’ lower canyon early in the season, and then again between Matson Creek Canyon and the Lower Canyon, in September and October, but the bulk of the run is to be found above the Matson Creek Canyon after that.
The fishing below the Kalum Canyon can be good throughout the winter, but again there is no disputing the fact that most of that river’s steelhead are to be found upstream of the canyon. The Lakelse River has a canyon that is more of a long pool with rock walls. It offers no barrier to anadromous fish, yet far more fish prefer the runs, riffles, and pools above it.
The Zymacord is similar in size to the Dasque, but different in character in so far as its lower reaches have fewer rocky runs and a more gentle flow. Zymacord steelhead do make it over the falls that are located a short way above the Erlandsen Creek confluence. The water above those falls is the destination of the Zymacord coho. This is the case on the Zymoetz, and the Kalum too.
The Dasque falls were the barrier above which the environmental consulting firm working for the project’s proponents initially reported they could find no evidence of anadromous fish. This finding was later disputed by Chris Culp, who, when doing some enumeration work on Dasque with the Deep Creek Hatchery crew, saw coho ascending the falls.
Shortly after this clash of views the environmental consulting firm contacted Chris with the news that the power project’s proponents were investigating the idea of mitigation. Apparently evidence of chinook, coho, and steelhead had been discovered above the falls. There was no way the project would be halted given he powerful push behind independent power projects by Gordon Campbell’s government. Now four kilometres of stream will be diverted into pipes and will dramatically compromise a part of the river critical to coho and steelhead spawning and to mitigate the damage something deemed good for habitat will be done elsewhere.
The best scientist with the best equipment can’t build a mayfly, let alone a four-kilometre stretch of salmon stream and its surrounding habitat. When we hear the word mitigation from industrialists something irreplaceable is about to be lost forever, in the case of Dasque, a stretch of river that has evolved over millennia to perfectly suit its environment.
Any notion that these projects are small and relatively unobtrusive is quickly dispelled with a glance the monstrous footprint we saw. And that is only part of an infrastructure, which includes roads, transmission lines, and, in this case, the laying and burying of four kilometres of pipe large enough in diameter for a man to walk through.
The construction crew is justifiably proud of their work. They have bent over backwards to minimize the impact of their work. Our river valleys would be in much better shape if loggers had exerted as much care. The problem is these run of the river projects, though sold as small, green intrusions, are huge industrial undertakings with extensive infrastructure that require a lot of earth moving, logging, and blasting to construct. Their footprint is huge. They compromise public land then transfer that land into private hands.