Volunteers at the Nile Creek Hatchery in Qualicum Bay are finally able to conduct their aquaculture work legitimately and no longer face the threat of having the water cut off to their community-built hatchery.
After a long, drawn out battle, the local Waterworks District, The Nile Creek Enhancement Society (NCES) and various government organizations have eliminated the hurdles that threatened the successful community-built hatchery.
NCES president Ken Kirkby said with the help of some key players, including water works district administrator Leigh Campbell and former water board member Ernie Buckley all of the parties involved have come to an agreement.
Not only do they now have a legitimate water license, they have also obtained an aquaculture license from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
Kirkby said after years of being caught up in bureaucratic red tape, NCES volunteers can go about their business of continuing to restore nature in Nile Creek without the threat of being shut down.
“After a long battle we are in business,” he said.
The fight over water to the hatchery on Nile Creek goes back a long way.
The facility, which successfully hatches one and a half million salmon eggs each spring, was built by a group of volunteers almost 20 years ago in their ongoing effort to rehabilitate a stream that used to be known as the Pink River because of the schools of salmon that filled it in the fall.
But by 1993, due to the impact of logging and other abuses, Nile Creek was down to a handful of fish.
That’s when a group of mostly retired people formed the Nile Creek Enhancement Society, and with the DFO as a partner, began to rehabilitate the watershed.
They built a small hatchery, tapped into a long unused water system that belonged to the Qualicum Bay-Horne Lake Waterworks District, and started to incubate pink salmon eggs in what has been described as one of the best small-scale fisheries rehabilitation projects in the country.
Driven by a desire to restore the dying river, NCES members tended to act first and then get the permits, and along the way failed to get a water licence.
Kirkby admits in their desire to get the job done they cut a few corners and he said it became a big issue that got hung up in bureaucratic rules — including one which stated non-profit groups can’t get their own license.
The waterworks district was about to turn off the tap that provides water to the hatchery.
The problem, explained Gordon Lundine, chair of the Qualicum Bay-Horne Lake Waterworks District, was that the NCES failed to get a water license more than a decade ago, when they tapped into the pipeline that runs under a road near the creek.
Lundine said two years ago a meeting was held with DFO, the provincial water controller.
The outcome was that, after two years, NCES would have to either get their own license or changes would have to be made, as the hatchery actually falls a few feet outside of the boundaries of the district, among other issues.
The DFO could get a water license for the Crown land the hatchery sits on, but a policy restricted them from getting involved in such cases.
Kirkby said not only do all the parties have a workable agreement, they also have a full blown aquaculture license.
“The killer of the whole thing, the absolute mind bender is that DFO somehow or another has found it within their wisdom to issue us an aquaculture licence from no license possibility at all.”
He said NCES members feel good about this outcome and now they can concentrate on rearing fish in the hatchery over the next few months.