High lake water lev­els help­ing de­struc­tive carp get into Cootes Par­adise

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL

Call it the in­va­sion of an in­va­sive species.

Huge num­bers of non-na­tive com­mon carp — which sci­en­tists have been try­ing to con­fine to Hamil­ton Harbour for decades be­cause they are de­struc­tive to ad­join­ing marsh lands — have been es­cap­ing in record high water lev­els. They’re push­ing their way into Grind­stone Creek, Cootes Par­adise and even through city’s sewer sys­tem.

Of­fi­cials with the City of Hamil­ton say for the first time ever, carp and other fish were found in in­takes to the city’s waste­water treat­ment plant on Wood­ward Av­enue this week. It’s be­lieved the fish trav­elled sev­eral kilo­me­tres through the city’s un­der­ground in­fra­struc­ture af­ter gain­ing ac­cess through flooded over­flow tanks near the shore­line.

At the other end of the bay, the Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens Fishway is un­der 12 inches of water. That’s never hap­pened be­fore with the $2.3 mil­lion struc­ture that is de­signed to keep large carp out of Cootes Par­adise while let­ting de­sir­able species of fish through. RBG staff have been fran­ti­cally “work­ing like beavers” to ex­pand and for­tify the struc­ture against the on­slaught of carp look­ing for spawn­ing grounds. They be­lieve the ef­fort has been gen­er­ally suc­cess­ful so far with few carp get­ting through.

But Grind­stone Creek is an­other story. A makeshift carp bar­rier fash­ioned from old Christ­mas trees across the wa­ter­way in Fe­bru­ary has been swept over, let­ting the carp freely swim over top with lit­tle that RBG work­ers can do. The carp not only have free reign of the creek but flood­ing wa­ters have turned sur­round­ing mead­ows into shal­low wa­ters where the carp can be seen thrash­ing about.

All these prob­lems, and many more, are ex­plained by Lake On­tario water lev­els, which are at the high­est level since records be­gan be­ing kept in 1918. Lev­els are cur­rently listed at 75.84 me­tres and the Hamil­ton Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity says more heavy rain or high east­erly winds over the com­ing days and weeks could cause se­vere flood­ing in shore­line ar­eas.

“Ad­di­tional rain isn’t go­ing to help the sit­u­a­tion.” says Scott Peck, the author­ity’s di­rec­tor of wa­ter­shed plan­ning and en­gi­neer­ing.

East­erly winds will churn up waves and push the high wa­ters against shore­lines of Stoney Creek, Con­fed­er­a­tion Park and the Beach Strip in Hamil­ton, he said. Luck­ily, the pre­vail­ing wind is west­ward.

“It’s hard to spec­u­late about how much higher the wa­ters will get. May will prob­a­bly not see much in the way of de­creases. All we can hope for is that we get into more of a tra­di­tional sum­mer where the rain will de­crease and the lev­els will slowly go back,” said Peck.

Tys Theysmeyer, head of nat­u­ral lands for the RBG, says he’s hope­ful the wa­ters have peaked.

“We’re def­i­nitely un­der stress. The carp bar­rier is ba­si­cally be­ing held to­gether by rocks and wire fence be­cause the orig­i­nal bar­rier is un­der water.”

Twen­ti­eth an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions of the fishway, orig­i­nally sched­uled for later this month, have been put on hold un­til late Au­gust. Not only is the bar­rier washed out, but so are the ac­cess path­ways for peo­ple to walk to it.

Dan McKin­non, the city’s head of pub­lic works, said the lake lev­els are so high they’ve en­gulfed the emer­gency over­flow out­lets of un­der­ground sewage-catch­ing tanks near East­wood Park and Bayfront Park.

That means harbour water is flow­ing into the sewage-hold­ing tanks, rather than the other way around.

It also means fish — mostly carp — are swim­ming into the tanks, through the sewer sys­tem and all the way to the Wood­ward treat­ment plant to be dis­cov­ered by dumb­founded city work­ers.

“Once they get in the tank, they can swim into the sewer, then the flow of the sewer would carry them down to Wood­ward,” said McKin­non. “It’s ex­traor­di­nary. We’ve never seen fish in there be­fore.”

Mean­while, the City of Burling­ton has closed the beach at Burling­ton Beach Re­gional Water­front Park, the Beach­way, un­til fur­ther no­tice be­cause of high water lev­els. The play­ground, con­ces­sions, wash­rooms, park­ing and trail re­main open.


Wire fenc­ing has been added to the RBG carp bar­rier and fishway at the out­let of Cootes Par­adise marsh.

The Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens carp bar­rier and fishway at the out­let of the Cootes Par­adise marsh is un­der 12 inches of water.

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