Restoration of diverse habitat features in the Okanagan River, Okanagan Falls

Okanagan Nation Alliance in partnership with the Province of BC

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.

Major flood control works in the 1950’s channelized the majority of q̓awsitkʷ (Okanagan River) severely impacting its health, biodiversity, fish bearing capacity, and linked natural vegetation and wildlife. In the Okanagan Falls reach, four Vertical Drop Structures were added during channelization to stabilize the river bed under the increased slope of channel straightening, resulting in a drastic loss of in-stream and riparian habitats diversity and quality.

The Okanagan River Restoration Initiative (ORRI), is an ecosystem based collaborative approach, assembling Okanagan First Nation, governments and local stakeholders. The partners will replace, or backwater, one of the drop structures with diverse, complex, and functional river features, including pools, riffles, sheltered boulders areas, mixed cobbles/sand areas, and planting adjacent riparian vegetation.

The overall objectives are to restore natural river features to improve fish migration, enhance the quantity and quality of spawning and rearing habitat for Sockeye, Chinook, Steelhead/Rainbow Trout, and other native resident fish species, create essential habitat for the endangered Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel, and restore riparian plant communities for native wildlife species, stabilize stream banks, improve water quality, and increase ecosystem resilience.

This project is a one-year request. Approved by Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Board and $46,200 was allocated from the South Okanagan Conservation Fund in 2021. The South Okanagan Conservation Fund dollars are matching significant confirmed funding from other sources. The project is expected to complete by January 31, 2022.