New stream crossing in Niagara vineyard improves fish habitat

Bridge crossing replacement - image 1Fish are once again flourishing in their natural habitat in a small tributary to Niagara Region’s Sixteen Mile Creek, since an eroded culvert was replaced with a new clear-span bridge crossing.

Now, fish can make their way downstream and farmers can easily cross the stream with equipment without endangering the habitat.

“We knew we needed to come up with a plan to replace this culvert,” says Paul VanderMolen, farm property manager with Sixteen Mile Cellar, a vineyard near Jordan Station, ON, who oversaw the project. “The culvert was perched from erosion and the fish couldn’t get through so we knew we had to do something.”

The stream is an offshoot of Sixteen Mile Creek, which flows into Lake Ontario. When the original concrete culvert was put into the middle of the creek, soil from the sides was pushed in to meet it, forcing the water to go through it.

Over the years, erosion had removed a lot of soil, causing the water to run underneath it.

When the water level is too low, the fish can no longer make their way through the culvert and down the creek. And as the culvert crumbled, it became difficult to move equipment across it.

Sixteen Mile Cellar - perched culvert needs replacing - NPCA photo
Perched culvert before it was replaced with the new stream crossing. Photo courtesy of NPCA.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) identified the culvert as a priority for replacement several years ago and brought the issue to Vander Molen’s attention when he approached them with plans for a separate tree planting project on the same property.

“We met with Paul many times to discuss plans for the culvert and weighed different options, from a corrugated pipe culvert to simply adding a rock-lined ramp in the creek to allow the fish to move across the barrier without having to replace the whole culvert,” explains Kerry Royer, Stewardship Program Assistant with NPCA. “In the end, the landowners decided that a clear span bridge that could carry 20 tonnes of farm equipment was the best option to address the needs of both the environment and the farm.”

The bridge construction came together as a result of collaboration between Sixteen Mile Cellar, NPCA and the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP), administered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

Because of the size of the bridge, a structural engineer was hired to provide a design and the NPCA hired a contractor to remove the old culvert, do the grading work and install the I-beams for the new bridge.

The new crossing uses I-beams resting on big concrete blocks that are backfilled with gravel and wooden decking completes the top.

“It’s a beautiful crossing that really fits in with what a crossing at a winery should look like,” says VanderMolen. “This really solved two issues for us—we improved the fish habitat and we were able to improve the stream crossing for farm use.”

In the spring, adds VanderMolen, proper spawning material will be added on the creek bottom to further improve the habitat and some trees will be planted to replace those that were removed during the bridge crossing’s construction.

SARFIP provided cost-share funding for farmers to implement best management practices that helped protect essential habitats of species at risk located on-farm. The range of possible activities under the program applied to croplands, grasslands, riparian areas, wetlands and woodlands.

In order to qualify for cost-share funding of approved project costs, eligible Ontario farm businesses had to have a peer-reviewed third edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in place and completed and filed a Growing Forward program enrollment form with OSCIA.

They must also have selected at least one of the eligible best management practices from the SARFIP list that related directly to an action identified in their EFP action plan.

SARFIP was funded in 2012 by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources through the Species At Risk Stewardship Fund, and the Government of Canada through the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species At Risk.

SARFIP was linked to the Canada-Ontario EFP that was supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food through Growing Forward. OSCIA delivered the programs to agricultural producers.

“The funding we were able to access and the excellent team work and collaboration with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority are what really made this project work,” says VanderMolen. “It wouldn’t have come together without all these partners involved.”

Note: this article was originally written for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.

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