More pike, less algae among expected benefits, ecologist says
The Hamilton Conservation Authority hopes visitors to Christie Lake will literally be able to see the difference in water quality when seven man-made fishing ponds are restored to a more natural stream state.
Aquatic ecologist Lisa Jennings said the project is expected to lower the temperature of water flowing into the lake from the warmer ponds by more than three degrees Celsius, preventing the growth of the toxic blue-green algae that reduces clarity.
She said anglers will also benefit because the rehabilitation, set to begin in March, will create spawning areas for northern pike that, like bass and other cold-water fish, presently stay out of the lake due to its warm, murky water.
Barriers that effectively trap fish in the ponds, located on three tributaries of Spencer Creek, will also be removed to allow migration into the lake, while new perched wetlands will provide habitat for turtles, frogs and other swamp species, she said.
“We want to create that balance again,”Jennings said at an open house at Christ Church of Flamborough to give the public the chance to comment on three potential options for the ponds, created in the 1970s.
“Right now we do have rainbow trout stocking in the ponds but they don’t survive. They need a certain amount of dissolved oxygen to survive and there isn’t really anywhere for them to go.”
Option A leaves the ponds as is. Option B removes barriers, places fill in the ponds to make them more stream-like and creates perched wetlands that will be flooded during the spring; Option C almost completely converts the ponds into stream channel by using more fill and providing less space for wetlands.
Jennings said the authority doesn’t yet have a price tag for the latter two options, but B is the preferred approach because it’s cheaper than C, requiring less fill, and also allows for more diverse habitat while meeting the goal of lowering water temperatures.
She said the public feedback thus far has been “very positive.”
“I think people see the potential and that we’re here for improvement and to create habitat,”Jennings said. “It’s very simple and the lake will greatly benefit from it.”
Design consultant Ed Gazendam said the project reflects a widespread trend to remove fish barriers but is unique in that few areas have seven ponds on three tributaries in such close proximity.
He said although Option C would be preferable if money were no object, Option B is the most fiscally responsible, requiring about 1,500 cubic metres of fill, compared to about 4,000 for Option C.
“Not only that, there’s more diversity of habitat because it gives you riverine and backwater habitat, so it’s naturally fluctuating as the lake fluctuates,” Gazendam said. “It also creates creek areas.”
Flamborough resident Cathy McMaster, one of about a dozen people who dropped by for the open house, said she lacks the expertise to judge the plan, but it’s clear the approach taken in the 1970s “hasn’t worked out.”
She said she doesn’t fish but likes the idea of reintroducing pike and other species like bass and rainbow trout into a cleaner Christie Lake– itself created when its namesake dam was built in 1974 to control downstream flooding from Spencer Creek.
“These ponds are all stagnant. Probably something has to be done here,” McMaster said. “I think probably this is a good project and something that has to be confronted.”
The authority will continue to accept public comments until Feb. 6. For more information, visit conservationhamilton.ca.