Creation of Fish Spawning and Reconnection of an Historic Okanagan River Floodplain in Penticton

Okanagan Nation Alliance in partnership with the En’owkin Centre.

Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) formed in 1981 as the inaugural First Nations government in the Okanagan and among other functions, works to provide technical fisheries assistance for the Nation and its eight member communities, including acting as a liaison between federal and provincial fisheries agencies and other non-government organizations. ONA is actively involved in the conservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of fish stocks, in particular for Okanagan River sockeye salmon, only one of two populations of sockeye salmon left in the international Columbia River Basin.

The En’owkin Centre is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of education, promoting an increased understanding of cultural traditions and ecological literacy among both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities through hands-on, experienced based education and conservation through the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands project.

These two inter-connected habitat restoration projects will restore natural spawning and rearing areas for native salmon species in the Okanagan River and will reconnect the Okanagan River in Penticton to the historic floodplain habitat at the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands.

Creating Salmon Spawning Areas in Okanagan River – According to Traditional Ecological Knowledge, the river channel in Penticton used to be rich in fish; Steelhead, Coho, Sockeye and King (Chinook) Salmon. Channelization in the 1950s has severely reduced habitat in the Penticton section of the Okanagan River, making it mostly unsuitable for native fish species to spawn. Experts working on the recovery of the Okanagan River have agreed that adding gravel spawning beds to this section is one of the highest priorities for fish. This project will establish a spawning bed with natural features designed to provide quality spawning habitat for Sockeye, Steelhead, Kokanee and Rainbow Trout. Clusters of river boulders will also create habitat diversity and areas for young fish to rear and grow. Spawning beds created at two other sites upstream by Okanagan Nation Alliance have proven to be successful and this bed could increase spawning capacity significantly – by 3000 sockeye pairs, and 10,000 kokanee pairs.

Reconnecting the Okanagan River Floodplain – In addition to the loss of instream habitat, the channelization of the Okanagan River in the 1950’s also contributed to the loss and disconnection of the river to the rich riparian, wetland and floodplain habitats. ONA and En’owkin Centre will re-engage 12 hectares of the historic floodplain on the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands, reconnecting the river to the last remaining contiguous piece of floodplain wetland in the Penticton area. The opportunity is significant as the only location to do so without requiring changes to existing urban infrastructure. The ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands are home to many species at risk, and establishing the floodplain connection will help to re-establish habitat for wildlife including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and culturally significant species like ntytyix, Chinook Salmon Food Chief. Benefits to the South Okanagan region include natural flood protection, salmon spawning viewing, and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality and more.

This project was approved by the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Board and $ 40,260 was allocated from the South Okanagan Conservation Fund in 2018. The South Okanagan Conservation Fund dollars are matching significant confirmed funding from other sources. The project is expected to complete by February 1, 2019.