There is not one person or group in the Sooke area that is involved with the salmon fishery that doesn’t think decommissioning the Bill James Dam on DeMamiel Creek is a good thing. In fact it is just the opposite.
Despite letters, phone calls and media attention, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is unwavering in its plan to bulldoze the earthen dam near the headwaters of DeMamiel Creek.
The dam was built in the 1970s by a group of volunteers with a $27,000 LIP grant. At the time, they set up a kitchen, picnic tables and even outhouses for the use of the close to 100 volunteers who worked on the dam. They had loggers and housewives, commercial fishermen and grandmas all with the same goal in mind — building a dam to control the water flow into DeMamiel Creek for the benefit of the salmon that spawn there. The Sooke Lions Club coordinated the efforts, with Percy Brown of Becher Bay sparking the efforts. The idea then, as it is now, was to store water so it could be released into DeMamiel Creek during the low water periods in the summer. It was to help maintain and increase the coho salmon stocks which are crucial to the fishery.The salmon run at DeMamiel is the largest run on South Vancouver Island.
The dam was rebuilt in 1998 at an estimated cost of over $250,000 and again much of the work was done by volunteers.
Glen Varney, who was part of a rebuild in 1998, says the issue of decommissioning the dam is a “hot potato” issue. The decision to decommission is due in part to the failure of the Testalinden Lake dam in Oliver. But, the Bill James dam is not the same, said Varney.
“When the dam let go in Oliver, the province looked at all water licenses with dams. It was an embarrassment for DFO (the Testalinden Lake dam),” said Varney.
Varney said the control valve installed by DFO for the Bill James dam was put on the wrong side. It was placed on the downstream side where it should have been in the upstream or middle portion.
“It is pretty embarrassing on DFO’s part not to put the valve on the right part.”
After the dam let go in Oliver, an assessment was needed for the Bill James dam and Varney stated that an engineer’s report would cost about $50,000 along with another $50,000 to repair the location of the valve.
“From a volunteer standpoint, there are people willing to go up and do it and it would cost very little,” said Varney.
The dam is for water storage and prior to DFO removing the control valve, it was opened up in late July and closed in early March. It was one of three water storage units controlled by the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society. The society regulates flow from Young Lake on a daily basis to monitor flow into the lower part of DeMamiel Creek.
But DFO has made plans, as outlined in their email response.
“The Department plans to complete decommissioning the dam on DeMamiel Creek in the summer of 2013. A technical analysis of the dam’s storage and release capabilities indicates that it does not release enough water to provide a tangible benefit to downstream salmon habitat and coho salmon. DFO will be working with the property owner, TimberWest, to revegetate the area around the dam and to ensure the land is returned to a stable and natural state,” said Kirsten Ruecker, communications advisor for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region.