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Metro Vancouver’s streams the ‘life-blood’ of region: Streamkeepers

Seen those yellow fish painted beside storm drains? The streams underneath still ‘need some love,’ volunteers say.

In North Vancouver's Coho Creek on March 25, Pacific Streamkeepers Federation executive director ZoAnn Morten instructs volunteers on protocols for monitoring waterways.

Contributed/Pacific Streamkeepers Federation

In North Vancouver's Coho Creek on March 25, Pacific Streamkeepers Federation executive director ZoAnn Morten instructs volunteers on protocols for monitoring waterways.

You maybe have noticed some unusual graffiti tags popping up across Metro Vancouver: a single yellow fish painted beside street storm drains.

Those fish aren’t the work of a new street artist, but a 24-year-old citizen program — engaging thousands of volunteers quietly watching over our region’s waters, many of them underground or paved over but still persistently flowing. And hopefully, thanks to their painted tags, reminding people to care for what they dump into them.

“Streams need some love,” quipped Zo Ann Morten, executive director of the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation and a volunteer streamkeeper herself. “They needed people to collect information on them, keep an eye on them, and watch for changes over time.

“They're the life-blood of our region, taking nutrients from one part of our watersheds to another and watering the plants.”

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But with the region’s constant flux of construction, property development, roadworks, erosion and pollution — “humans have had such an impact on the landscape,” Morten lamented — there are signs of hope, she said.

In coming weeks, the waterway advocate and North Vancouver resident revealed, one stream close to her heart will face a new challenge. It’s a waterway that shares her own name: Morten Stream.

“It used to be a leachate ditch that took the poisoned water dumped at the landfill down to Lynn Creek,” she explained. “We turned her into a fish-bearing stream, and we now have fish coming back into the system.”

Those salmon, she said proudly, are essential to bringing large amounts of ocean nutrients into the region’s watersheds, the large geographic catchment areas from which our cities get their drinking water supplies.

And what was once a ditch for dump toxins has become such a thriving fish habitat that last year they faced a new challenge. And it’s largely thanks to another citizen-led, Fisheries and Oceans Canada-funded group that works in tandem with Streamkeepers: the Salmonid Enhancement Program.

A family of otters moved upstream, the parents teaching their young to fish in the revitalized waterway. Good news for nature, but not for preserving the carefully managed and still fragile fish population.

So the volunteers debated what to do, and installed tubes with mesh entryways just large enough for fish to enter, but not otters, known as “bafflers.”

“This is the first time we've actually had to try to confuse nature, because now we have a fair number of fish there,” Morten said, adding with a laugh: “It will be this spring when we find out if the otters are actually baffled.”

Modeled after a massively popular U.S. program, the B.C. streamkeepers are next year marking their 25th anniversary. Backed by Fisheries and Oceans, the program “set a new precedent as many B.C. citizens became vital, hands-on partners” in “cleaning up damaged streams” across the province, the department’s website stated.

“Steams are really quite predictable,” Morten said when asked why she cares about them so much. “I like things you can predict.

“You can look back at a stream and see what happened, when it went up or down, and understand what it will do. The life in them is right in our back yards.”

To get involved with the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation and its local volunteer efforts, visit www.pskf.ca.

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