Nat Cicuto carefully picks his way down the gravel slope on the south side of the new 86 Avenue culvert to reach the bank of Yorkson creek.
It’s a grey, rainy day, and the muddy water is moving fast through the just-installed precast concrete box beneath the road that connects 204 Street to 205B Street.
Cicuto, president of the Yorkson Watershed Enhancement Society, has to raise his voice to be heard over the sound.
“This is huge,” he says, smiling.
“We’re gaining about 100 metres of spawning habitat.”
The replacement for the old culvert under the road has opened up the waterway and comes with fish baffles inside that will serve as habitat for wild Pacific coho salmon, he explains.
Cicuto calls it a “history-making design” that will protect the fish from people and predators.
Work to replace the original “somewhat impassible” culvert on 86 Avenue with a new fish-friendly design began this summer and is expected to finish by mid-October when the road, curbs and sidewalks go in.
But the most important part, installing the new culvert, was completed in mid-September.
It means the obstructions that kept salmon from swimming in the stream for almost 30 years have been reduced even more, Cicuto says.
Prior to 2004, there weren’t any salmon spawning in Yorkson Creek because they couldn’t get through another culvert at Highway 1 .
The society lobbied the provincial ministry of highways, federal department of fisheries and the Township to fix that blockage.
After the work was done on the Highway 1 culvert, in December of 2004, 16 salmon made it into Willoughby for first time in three decades.
The last year a count was conducted, in 2014, there were 50.
“That’s a 200 per cent increase in salmon,” Cicuto says.
“I know 50 salmon doesn’t sound like enough, but for a small stream in an urban environment that’s undergoing a lot of massive redevelopment, it’s huge.”
Yorkson Creek and its two major tributaries, West Munday and East Munday Creek, flow through Walnut Grove and Willoughby, draining 20 square kilometres of land into the Fraser River.