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Dam removal could end salmon run, critics say

Sep 18 2012

A small dam on a productive salmon stream near Sooke will be bulldozed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada next year despite fears that this could wipe out the coho run.

"We are moving ahead with decommissioning, but it's too late in the season to do it this year," said Dan Bate, DFO spokesman.

"The reservoir has now been drained, so whether or not the structure is in place doesn't make much difference," he said.

A backhoe will be used to bulldoze the earthen dam, Bate said.

"No explosives will be involved."

The Bill James Dam, on De Mamiel Creek, about 11 kilometres northwest of the mouth of the Sooke River, was officially decommissioned last fall, despite an outcry from the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society and area politicians.

DFO removed the control valve, so water flows could not be controlled, after deciding an engineering review and possible repairs to the dam it owns would cost too much.

Facing budget restraints, DFO is reviewing all infrastructure and maintenance costs.

Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca electoral area regional director, said he had hoped that DFO would reverse the decision because of an outcry from fishermen, the Salmon Enhancement Society, First Nations and politicians.

The decision to bulldoze the dam, instead of repairing the valve, is disappointing, Hicks said.

"This is incredible. Shame, shame, shame," he said.

"The department has totally abandoned the most important part of bringing our salmon back - the restoration of habitat for salmon," he said.

The dam, designed to help salmon runs by preventing the creek from drying up in the summer, was built in the 1970s by members of the Sooke Conservation Society, helped by DFO.

It was funded by community donations.

Glen Varney, enhancement society spokesman, said he is hoping some coho fry survived this year as the wet start to summer allowed scattered pools to remain in the creek.

The coho run is not expected until late October, Varney said.

"I hope we are going to get some rain by then," he said.

DFO spokesmen said previously that they believe the coho run will survive without the dam because the amount of water released does not make a major difference to the fish.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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