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Fraser Canyon Slides & Impacts on Salmon

As so many saw in the fall of 2021, landslides can have serious impacts on BC's communities, infrastructure and transportation routes. Slides can also have serious impacts on waterways — such as how and where rivers flow and how passable they become following a slide. One of the most serious of such recent slides was discovered in 2019 on the Fraser River near Clinton, known as the Big Bar Slide when salmon were obstructed from moving upstream, triggering a large response effort: see background.

The project “Landslide impact on flow dynamics, fish migration and genetics of Fraser River salmon” examines how past and present slides in the Fraser River Canyon have affected river flows and migrating salmon populations.

Fraser Canyon Slides & Impacts on Salmon

Fraser Slides project team members hit the road in July, 2023 to discuss the project and results to-date with communities along the Fraser Canyon. The team thanks all participants for their hospitality and great conversation. For information about the next workshop, contact .

Learn About the Project

 

Project Website

A Fraser Landslides research site is now live on the SFU website. Stay current on the research underway on landslides, canyons of concern, hydraulics and flow dynamics, and salmon migration.

Visit the site!

Reports

  • The Fraser Landslides Research Project held a Year 1 workshop on May 10, 2022 at T'it'qet First Nation in Lillooet, British Columbia. The session was held both in-person and online, and the discussion focused on how information and knowledge can be shared to support and build relationships between First Nations and researchers. Read the report
  • Year 1 and Year 2 project reports are also available on the SFU webpage.

Project Background

Late in 2018, a large amount of material broke away from the cliffs above the Fraser River, southwest of Clinton, BC, in a remote section of the river. The Big Bar Slide, as it was called, created a blockage in the river that significantly and negatively affected migrating salmon due to adverse water flows, and cost millions of dollars in ongoing mitigation costs. The slide was discovered in the summer of 2019, triggering response effort, including cliff stabilization and transfer of fish past the slide.

The impacts of another slide similar to the Big Bar Slide could be catastrophic. Migrating Fraser River salmon populations are at record low numbers, and another significant slide blocking migration could spell disaster for these already stressed and vulnerable salmon populations. However, the likelihood of a similar slide occurring again is unknown.

The project, “Landslide impact on flow dynamics, fish migration and genetics of Fraser River salmon” is a collaboration between academia and First Nations, and aims to understand how past and present slides in the Fraser River Canyon have affected river flows and subsequent migrating salmon populations. Analysis of past slide dynamics will be used to develop a predictive model of potential future slide activity, and may inform potential future slide response. Indigenous Knowledge holders will be engaged to assess the understanding of past slide events and their impacts on salmon migration in Fraser Canyon First Nations communities.

This three-year project will ultimately aim to assess the potential and risk of another slide blocking the Fraser River, and the impact of such a slide on migrating salmon.

Fraser Landslides Infographic

Year 3 Update

In its final year, the research project will focus on interpretation of data, and the presentation of results. Outreach and engagement efforts will be focused on the co-creation of knowledge; sharing the empirical data analysis with the aim of finding synergies between traditional knowledge and empirical evidence of historic events to better understand potential future events, and the implications for salmon populations and management.

The Year 3 Final Workshop will be an opportunity to share results, incorporate any final input, discuss potential applications, and celebrate the culmination of a unique science partnership.

Additionally, FBC is currently working on opportunities to bring the research findings to the public.

Completed Work and Preliminary Findings

  • Completion of a landslide inventory for the Fraser River corridor identifying features that represent landslide events that took place since the last glacial retreat
  • Identification of four types of landslides that represent different severity of hazard to fish migration
  • Identification of 13 sites of concern where a new landslide could have a big impact on salmon migration success and begun collection of geospatial information to assess the hazard
  • Several locations identified as current barriers to adult salmon migration under high flow conditions, where the longer the time spent in these conditions the more likely it is to reduce survival rates
  • Barriers have distinct channel structures including constriction-pool-widenings, bedrock steps that form rapids, and overfall steps, like the one at Big Bar

Video Story - Bare Earth: Saving the Fraser River Salmon Migration

Thanks to the Hakai Institute team members who joined the Fraser Landslides Research team on the river in the summer of 2022. They are helping tell the story of saving the Fraser River salmon from the impacts of future landslides.

Project Team

Research Team

Jeremy Venditti [Principle Investigator], Elizabeth Dingle, Shawn Chartrand, Jonathan Moore, Evan Byrnes, Julia Carr, Max Hurson, Kyle Kusack, Jeff Larimer, Tingan Li, Dan Murphy, Matteo Saletti, Aaron Steelquist, Laurie Solkoski, Derya Whaley-Kalaora, Morgan Wright - Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Brian Menounos - University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC)

Derek Heathfield - Hakai Institute (HI)

Gregory Owens, Ben Koop - University of Victoria (UVic)

Isaac Larsen - University of Massachusetts (UMass)

Sara Wuitchik – Mount Royal University

David Patterson, Kendra Robinson, Ben Sutherland, Mike Hawkshaw - Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Kimberly Sivak - Project Manager, SFU

Erin Seagren - Research Manager, SFU

Facilitation, Engagement and Communication Team

Greg Witzky - Fraser Salmon Management Council

Kim Menounos and Tasha Peterson - Fraser Basin Council

 

Water loggers on the Fraser River downstream of Hells Gate

A look at the project research in action as Fraser River water loggers (pressure sensors) downstream of Hells Gate are used to measure water depth. These were installed along the Fraser to give the project research team a better idea of the water surface elevation and flow conditions at different river discharges (e.g., how does the water surface change across a rapid). The information will help determine how fish can potentially use flow conditions to migrate past problematic areas in the canyon, such as high velocity zones. Photo: Erin Seagren, Simon Fraser University

Acknowledgements

The project team is grateful for the contributions that make the project possible.

  • Funding from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BC Salmon Innovation and Restoration Fund
  • In-kind support from Hakai Institute, SFU River Dynamics Laboratory, and DFO eWatch and Big Bar Slide Monitoring Program

Contact Us

Kim Menounos, Northern Interior Regional Manager
Fraser Basin Council

E: 

Our Vision

Social well-being supported by a vibrant economy and sustained by a healthy environment.

About the Fraser Basin Council

The Fraser Basin Council (FBC) is a charitable non-profit organization that brings people together to advance sustainability in the Fraser River Basin and throughout BC. Established in 1997, FBC is a collaboration of four orders of government (federal, provincial, local and First Nations) along with those from the private sector and civil society. We work with people in multiple sectors, helping them find collaborative solutions to today’s issues through a commitment to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Our focus is on healthy water and watersheds, action on climate change and air quality and strong, resilient communities and regions.

FBC Project and
Partner Sites

Plug in BC:
www.pluginbc.ca

Emotive:
www.emotivebc.ca

ReTooling for Climate Change:
www.retooling.ca

FBC Youth:
fbcyouthprogram.ca

Climate Action Toolkit:
www.toolkit.bc.ca 

Salmon-Safe BC
www.salmonsafe.ca

Contact Us

FBC has offices in Vancouver, Kamloops, Williams Lake and Prince George. We also have staff located in Abbotsford and Vernon.

To reach us, see FBC Offices and FBC Staff.

Our main office is:

Fraser Basin Council
1st Floor, 470 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 1V5

T: 604 488-5350
F: 604 488-5351
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We are grateful at the Fraser Basin Council Society to live and work on the unceded ancestral
territories of the Indigenous Nations of British Columbia.