Salmon River Watershed

The Salmon River is a valued salmon spawning ground. Located within the Fraser River Basin, it drains into the Shuswap Lake in British Columbia's dry interior. The river is approximately 120 kilometres long and drains a 1,500-square-kilometre area. The great majority of the watershed is forested land, with a very narrow ribbon of agricultural land immediately along the river. Peak stream flows occur from April through June (due to snow melt), with low flows occurring from late summer through the winter. See map.

Forest harvesting, agriculture and urban development have steadily increased within the Salmon River Valley. Of the approximately 325 farms within the watershed, beef ranching, dairy farming and forage crop production are the most common agricultural activities. All these land-use activities affect and are affected by the quality and availability of water.

Water supply

The Salmon River watershed experiences water supply deficits during July to September. There are no water storage dams or reservoirs to supplement base flow. The B.C. government has periodically shut down irrigation from the Salmon River when flows are in danger of becoming too low for aquatic life. At the same time, beef and dairy producers rely on irrigation water to grow forage for winter feeding, and crop water needs are greatest during July and August. Improving irrigation efficiency will play a key role in sustaining both the local farm economies and aquatic ecosystems. Between 2010 and 2013, WEBs assessed an irrigation-efficiency BMP within the Salmon River Watershed.

Water quality

Water quality data have been collected for over 25 years in the Salmon River Watershed and indicate that the river experiences water quality issues. Beef cattle in the watershed typically graze in the forested upland range from late spring to early fall and spend winter in the valley closer to the river. In many areas, cattle have direct access to the river which can lead to overgrazing and trampling of riparian areas, and can increase both fine sediment and E. coli bacteria within the river. 

Contamination from nutrients, fecal bacteria and other materials in the Salmon River can occur through surface runoff, groundwater seepage, soil erosion, sedimentation, and from direct cattle access to the river. WEBs completed an assessment of a fencing BMP to restrict livestock access to the river (2004-2010). The Cattle and Water Quality in the Salmon River Watershed fact sheet discusses methods and findings from this evaluation.

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