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Fish culvert project will connect Little Beaver Creek back to Georgian Bay

The project by the Beaver River Watershed Initiative intends to bypass an old railway abutment blocking the stream

The Beaver River Watershed Initiative (BRWI) is seeking funding to build a fish culvert at the mouth of the Little Beaver Creek in Thornbury, as part of a series of projects being undertaken to rehabilitate and promote a healthy ecosystem in the river.

The mouth of the river is blocked off from Georgian Bay by an old railway abutment, which impedes several trout species from travelling upstream and using the river as spawning grounds.

By installing a fish culvert – a manufactured stream bed that allows fish to bypass obstacles – trout and other species of fish will be granted free passage to and from Georgian Bay.

“It's something that has been proven to be effective in the migratory movement of fish …especially in spawning season, to move in and out of watersheds and river systems,” said Brad Mulligan, member of the BRWI management team.  

Fish culverts allow fish to traverse dams, elevated water outlets, and even steep slopes by creating a stair-like series of watertight pools that slow down the flow of water. 

Compared to the alternative of removing the abutment altogether, Mulligan said that fish culverts are cost-effective. 

“It's extremely cost-effective compared to going in with construction crews and all that kind of stuff, and also, it's removable, so it's not a permanent fixture,” he said.

They are sold by Canadian Dave Penny, who custom-builds and ships them across North America.

To date, the estimated $25,000 project has received $12,500 in funding from the Lake Huron Georgian Bay Community Initiative. Another $2,500 has been pledged by The Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM) grants and donations committee, though the donation is still subject to council approval.

The proposed fish culvert follows several years of work that BRWI has put into improving the river, which has involved cooperation with adjacent property owners and assistance from TBM, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, among others.

In 2019, BRWI received funding from TBM to carry out water quality testing along the river, and discovered that the river had few issues with its chemical composition or pollution. 

In 2020, the group carried out an electrofishing study to find out what species of fish lived in the river, and they were looking for brook trout in particular.

While they discovered numerous fish species throughout, they noted a distinct lack of any trout species, even though they were found in large numbers north of the abutment blocking the river from Georgian Bay.

“What that meant was that the system was okay to connect back to Georgian Bay, so that led us to looking at some of the options that we could use,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan also pointed out that any trout making it over the abutment during high water periods were likely to get landlocked and ultimately meet their demise.

“When the rainbow and brown trout spawn, it's normally in very high water situations,” he said. “Quite often they can get over the abutment, but the problem is, come May and June and July and August, they get trapped in it.” 

"[A fish culvert] would allow them to get out of the river system when it heats up too much, and we wouldn't be seeing rainbow and brown trout being killed.”

Mulligan said that he hopes BRWI can get the fish culvert installed by August 2022 to line up with the spawning season for brown trout. 

“That's classically when water levels are lowest in river systems, late July and August. And then in September, moving into October [and] November, is when spawning season starts for brown trout.”

Mulligan hopes to continue improving the river’s ecosystem beyond the installation of the fish culvert. 

He said the river has developed a temperature problem that makes it less than ideal for brook trout.

“What we hope to do is to work with private landowners on sections of the river, so that we can help to decrease … how much sediment is in the river, and to increase the ability for the river system to cool down,” he said.

As a subcommittee of Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, anyone interested in donating to the project or getting involved with BRWI may contact them.

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About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie, LJI Reporter

Greg McGrath-Goudie covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands as part of the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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