The Walley Creek Streamkeepers, in partnership with the City of Nanaimo, Snuneymuxw First Nation, and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), is undertaking a restoration project this summer to make the creek healthier for the fish and other animals that live there. Walley Creek has resident cutthroat trout, and has the possibility to support Coho salmon.
In-stream work can only happen during the window of August 15 to September 15. This is to prevent damage to sensitive fish habitat. In-stream work requires a permit from the Provincial Government, and is done with the greatest amount of care possible, with the goal to leave the fish habitat better. Outside of this time, nothing should ever enter or block the water – not humans, animals, or tree parts. If branches and other “small woody debris” incidentally enter the water (through storms or getting flushed downstream) volunteers must remove blockages, with permission from DFO, the City and the Province.
2021 planned In-stream Work:
On June 4 the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Drinking Water & Watershed Protection Program (DWWP) released the 2020 report summarizing data collected by Streamkeepers groups through their Community Watershed Monitoring Program. This was the Walley Creek Streamkeeper's fifth year participating in this program! We use the data to better understand anthropogenic affects on the water quality, and to guide restoration efforts. We look at the results to see where the water quality readings are exceeding standard guidelines for temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, and turbidity.
Walley Creek had the potential to exceed the aquatic life guideline (17 degrees Celsius) in the summer of 2019 and 2020. This parameter is influenced by air temperature, upstream influence and physical stream attributes, however, it was noted that summer 2020 was wetter and cooler than previous years (see pg. 24 of the report). The report suggested restoration efforts to mediate the effects of high temperature include: groundwater conservation and riparian enhancement and restoration.
Dissolved Oxygen (DO)
The guidelines state that the average dissolved oxygen should be above 8 mg/L, and should not drop below 5 mg/L (instantaneous minimum). Dissolved oxygen is influenced by several factors, but low DO is commensurate with high temperatures. Walley Creek was below the average in the 2020 summer monitoring period, and at Morningside Park dropped below the instantaneous minimum for the first time since we began monitoring (pg. 33). *Check 2016 and 2017 reports to make sure this is true; the report states that it was above 5 mg/L in 2018, and 2019. This was most likely due to low flow.
Specific Conductivity (SpC)
Walley Creek is typically well above the guideline of 80 microsiemens(uS)/mL of SpC, the measure of dissolved ions in the water. We believe this to be due to significant groundwater influence, as well as road runoff from the many storm drains that feed Walley Creek from adjacent residential areas. The report states that Walley Creek was above 130 uS/cm on all 10 sampling dates (pg. 49). I don't see our data values on the graph, so I'll inquire whether there was a big difference between our summer and fall readings. We are curious whether mitigating/absorbing road runoff would bring the SpC down, and if this would be a worthwhile activity to improve the overall water quality of Walley Creek.
Measurement of suspended particles in the water exceeded parameters three times in the summer (pg. 57) and twice in the fall (pg. 58). The fall turbidity readings correlate with significant rain events October 13 (67.3 mm) and November 3 (46.2 mm). The report states that increased turbidity can increase temperature (pg. 51), and thereby lower dissolved oxygen. High summer turbidity can be a result of contaminants, storm water, and erosion. All of these are potentially true in Walley Creek.
Since this watershed has very gradual elevation change, there are several important wetlands associated with Walley Creek. In the past this land was considered poor for development, or at least costly to develop. With increased development pressure in Nanaimo, and the north end in particular, we are worried that the integrity of the wetlands could be compromised. They are important buffers during significant rain storms, and provide slow release of ground water over dry summer months. In addition, their ecological value as habitat for plants and animals, plus the benefit to human health of green space and fresh air is beyond measure.
Our group came together partly over a development on Hammond Bay Road north of Entwhistle Drive that was allowed to encroach on the wetland at the headwaters of Walley Creek, where the picture above was taken in June 2016.
The Nanaimo & Area Land Trust hosted Wetlandkeepers training on June 13, 2021 and part of the workshop was held in the marsh behind Piper's Pub in the Walley Creek watershed. We have been concerned to notice flagging tape in this area noting the high water mark, and are vigilant to make sure this important area is protected. The reason the water is so high right now is the activity of a busy beaver damming the flow!
Again this year we deferred our annual invasive removal with Ecole Hammond Bay students, since the public health regulations aren't changing to allow large outdoor gatherings until after June 15. For now, we're working with our small group of volunteers to remove invasive plants in the riparian area between the gravel path and Walley Creek adjacent to Ecole Hammond Bay.
Last year we almost eradicated the thistle that had completely overtaken the area. That allowed other invasive plants to thrive, so this year we are tackling Himalayan blackberry, Daphne (Spurge-laurel), English Ivy, and Bur Chervil. (To identify invasive plants in your area check out the Invasive Species Council of BC website.). These plants are competing with native baby Fir, Cedar, Arbutus and Maple trees, and Salal, Oregon grape and Ocean Spray shrubs for space, light and nutrients.
Our hope is that this concerted effort will eventually allow the native plants to become established, creating a more biodiverse and healthy riparian ecosystem.
May 2021, nursery for long-toed salamanders
Volunteers from Walley Creek and Departure Creek Streamkeepers pulled off a small project in the "salmon window", so that we could follow Covid protocols.
Today we did an invertebrate study at our lowest monitoring site on Walley Creek. We haven't sampled for inverts since a Junior Streamkeepers Day with Dave Clough in 2017, but we read over Module 4 of the Streamkeepers manual and even checked out the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation YouTube page to get ready.
We sampled three times and found many mayfly and stonefly larvae, which are both intolerant to pollution. So, the presence of these fragile organisms in the creek means the water is clean and clear, with sufficient oxygen for aquatic life. It was exciting to find these important little insects!
There is nothing more heartbreaking to a Streamkeeper than seeing a stream disappear. During the summer of 2019, we were dismayed to see Walley Creek go subsurface below Shores Drive. This impacted our water quality monitoring (no water, no data!), and we assumed would have a disastrous effect on the trout and aquatic invertebrates in those lower reaches.
We contacted the Province (Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, Water Protection Branch) for assistance, and were put in touch with regional hydrologist Neil Goeller to learn about flow monitoring opportunities. He suggested setting up a trail camera and flume + pressure transducer somewhere around our lowest water quality monitoring station near Morningside Drive to compare stream flow with rainfall. The RDN also gave us permission to set up a trail camera and flume + pressure transducer where the creek flows through the GNPCC property.
Neil suggested the flumes would be most useful to measure summer (low) flows. In the winter we would have the option of using a FlowTracker2 to take measurements, or just taking photos and measuring depth.
Flow monitoring data gets uploaded to the Provincial database, and the longer you have been recording data the better. Neil said 10 years is good, 20 years is great. We want to better understand the floodplain dynamics and flow regimes along the whole length of Walley Creek. Basically Neil's advice was - understand what's there so we can look for opportunities to improve green space/habitat/water retention.
Two flow monitoring stations were set up in late August 2019. By September the lower flume kept over-topping during large rain events, even after Neil replaced it with a larger one. He suggested that we switch to taking periodic discharge measurements with a flow meter and staff gauge (think ruler). He noted that the creek seemed to go dry a few days after a rain event in September, so he wondered about simply noting presence/absence of water since the most pressing question was of continuous flow (or not).
In January 2020 Neil trained us on using the FlowTracker2, with the goal of comparing water levels (using the pressure transducers already installed) with flow. Gauging flows this way takes about 30 minutes each time, taking multiple measurements across the width of the creek, which Linda and Nina carried out from March until July 2020, when flows were too low to measure.
The Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society (MVIHES) has published several reports (Dumont, J. 2017) on their flow monitoring of Shelley Creek near Parksville which may be of use as we look to evaluate how extreme high/low flows are impacting the habitat of Walley Creek.
On November 3, 2020 Linda and Nina measured a discharge rate of 0.1608 cubic metres per second, and a water depth of 16 cm. That translates to a flow of 160L/sec!! Neil confirmed that this was correct. The following week it was back to 6cm of depth and flowing at 16L/sec.
For the past year, we have worked with the City of Nanaimo to restore the riparian area in reach 2 (read more here). Between the crushed gravel path and the creek there is a shallow pool with some water flowing through it. With help from Elke Wind, herpetologist and wetland specialist, we investigated this area for potential wetland enhancement. The City of Nanaimo generously supplied an excavator and operator (Ryan) to dig test pits so we could examine the underground soil structure and better understand how water moves through this area.
Ryan excavated 5 test pits so we could see if the water flowing through the wetland area is surface water or groundwater. We determined that it is surface water, possibly flowing from the north (ie. Shores Drive access to Neck Point).
The pits filled up with water, so after filling the holes back up they were very soft (like quicksand). Ryan placed boulders and logs over top, and we flagged where the pits were. We did not expect the sandy substrate underneath the shale rock on the surface!
As far as wetland enhancement - Elke suggested we could put in a pond liner with wetland plants around the periphery, or watch the existing surface water and plan to enhance what's there. Elke's advice either way is to watch the water level and flow before making further plans.
The wetland area after our investigations.