Still Creek Daylighting, Habitat Restoration and Rehabilitation

Description:

In July 2002, when City Council adopted the Grandview-Boundary Industrial Area (GBIA) Rezoning and Development Policies and Guidelines (pdf) that contained specific guidelines to protect and enhance Still Creek, it also approved a 10-year program and funding for daylighting, habitat restoration, rehabilitation and enhancement work on Still Creek and it endorsed a long-term (10 – 50 year) enhancement plan.

Significance:

In 1988 Council had endorsed a policy to daylight, enhance and protect Still Creek. Since then, City staff eliminated the sewer contamination from adjoining private properties through an inflow and infiltration program (1994). In addition area development guidelines, Green Zone designation and various citywide plans and policies have encouraged that an enhanced Still Creek could become the recreational focus of the GBIA and surrounding neighbourhood, an opportunity to help address stormwater issues and improve the stream ecology, as well as an important educational tool to promote environmental awareness.

Based upon the Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study (pdf), it was the 10-year program adopted in 2002 for daylighting, habitat restoration, rehabilitation and enhancement work on Still Creek which was transformative in achieving significant results. Concerted rewilding and conservation efforts resulted in Chum salmon returning to Still Creek in 2012 for the first time in decades. In 2017 Chum salmon returned to Still Creek for the fifth year in a row.

Still Creek was the first of Vancouver’s partially open streams to be the object of concerted daylighting effort, and these efforts delivered the success of restoring salmon to the creek. As a result it joins the three salmon-bearing streams that remained of the original 47 in Vancouver (Beaver Creek in Stanley Park, Musqueam Creek originating in Pacific Spirit Park and flowing to the North Arm of the Fraser River and Spanish Bank Creek where salmon began to return in 2001 after removal of a culvert by volunteers).

Background:

Long, long ago Vancouver was the home of Musqueam, Coast Salish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in a landscape of forests of cedar and hemlock trees and over 50 wild salmon streams. After the arrival of European settlers, the area was logged and urbanized.  Most of Vancouver’s creeks and streams were placed in culverts underground as the city expanded. Today, Vancouver’s streams are mostly lost, covered by houses, roads, businesses or buried in sewers and culverts.

Still Creek is the only eastside stream in Vancouver remaining open and publicly accessible for portions of its course. Much of the remaining open watercourse is in the Grandview Highway Industrial Area. Still Creek forms an important part of the Brunette River system that flows into the Fraser River.

The Brunette River basin is a 73.3 square kilometre urban watershed encompassing portions of five cities – Vancouver, Burnaby, Port Moody, Coquitlam and New Westminster. It contains over 200 km of watercourses, (with Still Creek and the Brunette River being the dominant streams) and two lakes – Burnaby Lake and Deer Lake. The main Still Creek – Brunette River channel is approximately 17km in length and drops approximately 32 metres in elevation from Renfrew Street at 14th Avenue to its outlet at the Fraser River. The basin area in Vancouver represents approximately 13% of the entire watershed.

In Vancouver Still Creek emerges into the open from a culvert at the southern end of the Renfrew Ravine across the street from the 29th Avenue Skytrain Station. Renfrew Ravine Park is an undeveloped treed ravine section of the Still Creek watershed which contains the most natural of all the sections of the creek. The creek runs north along the bottom of the ravine where it remains largely in its original state with steeply sloped banks. Exceptions include a few isolated sections that have been modified with stone retaining walls, and some encroachment from adjacent residential areas along the upper banks of the ravine.

After running a distance of about seven blocks through Renfrew Ravine the creek runs under the intersection of 22nd Avenue and Renfrew Street and then through the park beside the Renfrew Community Centre. It then is culverted again for several blocks, emerging again at St. Jude’s Elementary School near 14th Avenue where large sections of the creek’s banks have been armoured with concrete and rip rap. As the creek turns east and flows north under Grandview Highway, it enters into a narrow concrete flume, approximately 2 metres wide at the base. Still Creek has been channelized for most of its length, and culverted for the rest. About 550 meters of the 1,400 meters from 29th Avenue to Boundary Road, about 40 percent, is culverted.

City Council Decisions:

In 1929, Still Creek was envisioned as part of Harland Bartholomew’s “Parks and Pleasure Drive” system connecting Vancouver and Burnaby along the natural stream. However, engineering actions prevailed and sections of the Creek and its tributaries were culverted, channelized and relocated in order to remove water quickly and efficiently.

In 1985 residents in Vancouver neighbourhoods adjacent to Still Creek, naturalists, and the Municipality of Burnaby urged the City to seek easements preserving the Creek and providing public access where it flows through private property. The Municipality of Burnaby was developing a bike and pedestrian trail adjacent to the Creek east of Boundary Road and it had obtained easements for access to the creek from affected landowners to achieve the development of the trail.

Vancouver city planners saw a potential in the industrial area for Still Creek to be an important amenity of value. It was expected that in future the Still Creek industrial area will be transformed into a higher amenity industrial area. “New age” industrial uses such as high tech industries seek out and develop sites with larger open spaces and amenities. Generally they attract work forces which desire amenities surrounding their work places. It was proposed that the preservation and enhancement of Still Creek will be a useful resource for the public, area employees and industrial landowners.

In early 1986, staff met with all owners of property through which the Creek passes. Their response to city actions to preserve the creek and provide for public access was mixed. Operators of industrial operations were reluctant to agree to creek preservation if it impeded their operations or expansion. Meanwhile, owners of vacant buildings or lands were receptive to creek preservation if zoning regulations could provide for “outright approvals” for retail or office development.

Following these consultations, suggested 3 options to City Council:

  1. delete a policy to preserve the creek;
  2. adopt building lines or landscape setbacks to discourage culverting of the creek; and,
  3. encourage owners of creek property to apply for rezoning their property to IC-1 (Industrial-Commercial) with accompanying easements, in favour of the City, providing public access and preservation of the open watercourse.

On September 23, 1986. Council unanimously supported the third option, the “IC-1 rezoning” policy, as follows:

THAT Council encourage applications to rezone, on owner initiative, lands in the Boundary—Lougheed Industrial Area containing Still Creek, from M-2 to IC-1 or other appropriate schedules, noting that such rezonings should include a covenant, in favour of the City, requiring that Still Creek be retained as an open watercourse and, where feasible, provide for public access; and

THAT Council identify the following sites (as identified in Appendix “A”) as being of greatest concern to the City for possible rezonings which will incorporate the preservation of the open watercourse and, where feasible, public access to Still Creek:

  • the sites on the north side of Cornett Road — the site 1 owned by Domtar;
  • site owned by B.C. Co. #265936; and
  • the Grantham Holdings site.

This policy was intended to encourage owners of sites through which the Creek passes, to seek rezonings to IC-1 (Industrial-Commercial) with accompanying easements, in favour of the City, providing for public access to and retention of the open watercourse. IC-1 zoning is more attractive to some landowners than the existing M-2 zoning because it offers outright approvals for office uses and limited retail. The “IC-1 rezoning” policy has been positively received by at least two landowners who appear willing to grant access to and preservation of the creek as part of the rezoning process.

In September, 1987, staff reported to Council proposing a policy on large scale retail uses in industrial areas. The report had some commentary regarding Still Creek, observing that since September 1986, there has been no culverting of the creek by private landowners. A development permit that had been approved in June 1986 would have necessitated culverting to achieve access, however the owner did not pursue the closing of the open watercourse.

Staff also reported that the landowner at 3057 Grandview Highway granted an easement, in favour of the City, to preserve and provide public access to a portion of the creek crossing his property. This requirement was imposed by the Board of Variance as a condition of granting an appeal for a retail use at that address. A rezoning application for this property was subsequently submitted in response to Council’s “IC-1 Rezoning” policy.

At its meeting of November 24, 1987, City Council adopted the proposed the policy on Large Scale Retail Uses. Council then referred to a Public Hearing the Director of Planning’s recommendation to approve the application to rezone 3057 Grandview Highway, from M-2 to IC-1, subject to a condition of rezoning whereby the landowner grants easements, in favour of the City, providing for the uncovering and retention of and public access to Still Creek for a length of at least 30 feet on the east side of the property.

Third, Council approved the Director of Planning’s recommendation “C. THAT Council reaffirms the “IC-1 Rezoning” policy for creek properties as approved by Council on September 23, 1986 and that retail development on other sites should be curtailed until the completion of the forthcoming study of retail uses on industrial sites.”

Within a year City efforts regarding daylighting, habitat restoration and rehabilitation of Still Creek were initiated in earnest in July, 1988 when City Council endorsed that Still Creek be maintained as an open watercourse, and approved to pursue daylighting, enhancing the Creek, and providing public access to a continuous pedestrian/bicycle pathway linking Burnaby Lake to the B.C. Parkway at the 29th Avenue Skytrain Station.

On April 24, 1990 (and amended March 14, 2000), City Council adopted the Still Creek CD-1 Guidelines calling for “development to occur in a manner consistent with retaining and enhancing the open watercourse.” A provision of the guidelines states that “Still Creek shall be retained and enhanced as an open watercourse, except for pedestrian and vehicular crossings, the location and design of which shall be subject to the approval of the Director of Planning.”

On September 16, 1993, Council supported including the Renfrew Ravine/Still Creek area in the GVRD’s Livable Region Strategic Plan  “Green Zone.” On June 14, 1994, Council approved an Inflow and Infiltration Reduction program in the Still Creek area to eliminate sewage discharges to the Creek resulting from sanitary and storm sewer cross-overs. In July 1995 Council adopted the Greenways Plan (pdf)which called for the protection and enhancement of Vancouver’s ecologically important areas, including Still Creek. On June 6, 1995, Council adopted CityPlan which directs that priority be given to actions that protect the environment, that parks and public places be diversified, that natural areas be protected and that more extensive greenways be created to explore and enjoy on foot or bike.

In July, 1999, City Council approved Policies and Guidelines for Highway Oriented Retail and I-2 and I-3 uses in the Grandview/Boundary Industrial Area (pdf). They reinforce the enhancement of Still Creek including daylighting wherever possible by identifying a number of innovative approaches to re-development and enhancement of Still Creek. These include daylighting the creek, limiting impervious cover and using on-site retention of stormwater among other Best Management Practices.

On May 2, 2000, City Council endorsed the Brunette Basin Watershed Plan (pdf), prepared by a multi-stakeholder task group formed in 1997 under the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s (GVRD’s) Liquid Waste Management Plan.  The Still Creek watershed being a significant part of the Brunette Basin and the Creek being the last remaining partly open creek in Vancouver’s built-up area, it was seen as a logical focus for local actions to support the Brunette Basin Plan. Council directed that this Plan be considered by City staff when carrying out City activities in the Still Creek drainage basin. A short while later, in July, 2000, Council established the Still Creek/Greenway Enhancement Fund with revenue from the lease of Cornett Road (pdf) in GBIA.

Later in 2000 when a comprehensive planning for the GBIA was begun, consultants were hired to identify opportunities for Still Creek enhancement, and focused on the GBIA. With much of the open portion of the Creek being in the GBIA where land use changes, redevelopment and substantial increases in employment are anticipated, the Creek represented an opportunity for creating unique water-focused recreational spaces for workers and surrounding residents.

At that time, the upper watershed of Still Creek was not known to support any species of fish due to the creek’s water quality, limited habitat and highly variable flows. In addition, the culvert at Boundary Road was considered to be an impassable barrier. However, sightings of Cutthroat Trout and Coho salmon had been made along downstream segments of Still Creek in the City of Burnaby.

Over the previous two decades, fish passage and habitat improvements by community groups and government agencies had resulted in small numbers of spawning salmon to the Brunette watershed, including Chinook, Coho and Sockeye. Spawning salmon were now known to return through the Brunette River into Stoney Creek, with additional salmon sightings in Deer Lake Creek, Eagle Creek, and Beecher Creek, all within the City of Burnaby. In addition, BCIT staff and students had found Coho salmon smolts in Still Creek on the Burnaby side of Boundary Road, in June 2001.

The City’s consultants, that included experts in environmental planning, landscape architecture and engineering, took the foregoing observations that it was likely that enhancement measures and restorative work within Vancouver’s portion of Still Creek would be beneficial to both the upper watershed as well as the Brunette Basin as a whole. They thus undertook to describe and evaluate a series of options that, if implemented, would assist Council, staff and the community in their efforts to rehabilitate Still Creek. The result of their work was the Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study (pdf).

In July 2002, Planning staff reported to Council the results of the comprehensive planning for the GBIA. On July 25, 2002 City Council approved the adoption of Grandview Boundary Industrial Area Rezoning and Development Policies and Guidelines (pdf) that contained specific guidelines to protect and enhance Still Creek. At that time, Council also adopted a 10-year action plan and endorsed in principle the long-term (10 – 50 year) enhancement plan contained in the Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study.

Since that time the City of Vancouver has been working with neighbouring municipalities to rehabilitate and enhance some sections of Still Creek. The purpose of the project is described as seeking to:

  • return creekside habitat to native plantings,
  • remove concrete and naturalize creek banks, and
  • add interpretive plaques and boardwalks to provide recreational and educational opportunities.

In May 2005, Council approved the first Still Creek Enhancement project at 3003 Grandview Highway. In December 2006, it endorsedMetro Vancouver’s Integrated Stormwater Management Plan (ISMP) for the Still Creek Watershed (pdf) that identified private and public actions to improve stormwater management, recreational opportunities and Creek health. In July 2007, Council approved the second Still Creek Enhancement project at 3400 block Cornett Road. In April 2008, it authorized that the annual income from the lease of a 2500 Skeena Street be held in the Still Creek Greenway Enhancement Fund for ongoing initiatives.

In December 2008, Council approved that $100,000 be allocated from the Still Creek Greenway Enhancement Fund for repair and enhancement of the portion of Still Creek located along 2900 Nootka Street and that $17,000 be allocated from the Still Creek Greenway Enhancement Fund for the final costs of the Still Creek enhancement project located along 3400 Cornett Road. In July 2011, THAT $365,265 be allocated from the Still Creek Greenway Enhancement Fund for construction of the portion of Still Creek located along 2900 Nootka Street.

In October 2012, Council approved an updated Grandview Boundary Mixed Employment Area Public Benefit Strategy (pdf) that includes the long-term plan for the rehabilitation and enhancement of Still Creek. In September 2014, Council approved a capital project budget of $70,000 be allocated from the Still Creek Greenway Enhancement Fund to undertake investigations into conceptual design work for potential future enhancement projects as well as educational and interpretive initiatives to raise awareness about the rehabilitation of the Still Creek watershed, as detailed in this report.

In April 2016, the Acting Director of Parks and Acting Director of Sustainability obtained Council approval for a Biodiversity Strategy, to work across departments to achieve Biodiversity Strategy goals, and to incorporate a new target into the Greenest City Action Plan – Access to Nature goal. In their report they observed that “ongoing work to restore Still Creek was rewarded by the return of over 20 chum salmon in 2012, 2013, and 2014. … Work on Still Creek has focused on riparian zone restoration, creation of more complex stream channels and floodplain wetlands, and removing culverts that have prevented upstream fish passage. Future restoration projects are planned by Engineering, Planning, and Parks as part of the Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study (2002).”

The Acting Directors of Parks and Sustainability stated in their 2016 report that there are “cultural and health benefits to biodiversity. Being able to watch seals in English Bay or salmon in Still Creek contribute to community identity, better decision making around environmental protection and positive mental and physical wellness amongst residents.”

In 2017 the Vancouver Park Board initiated a project to recreate the former stream in Volunteer and Tatlow parks and restore the English Bay shoreline. Undertaken in the context of the Park Board’s Biodiversity Strategy it is also a potential new water focus project in the City’s Integrated Rainwater Management Plan. There is also talk of restoring China Creek through East Vancouver all the way from Trout Lake to False Creek and restoring Renfrew Creek through through wetlands and stream channels in Creekway Park between Hastings Park and New Brighton Park into Burrard Inlet.

Sources:

City of Vancouver: Still Creek Enhancement web page

STILL CREEK AS A WATER-DISPOSAL MACHINE: AN ARCHIVAL SURVEY 1913-1988 Kevin Chan  / Trail Six: An Undergraduate Journal of Geography, UBC Geography Students’ Association, March 2012

Still Creek-Brunette River Study Technical Report By Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District Book – 1979 / 628 G78s Vancouver Public Library

Reports to Council, Subject, A. Policy on Large-scale Retail Uses in Industrial Areas, B. the Grandview Highway Industrial Area and Still Creek By Vancouver (B.C.) Book – 1987 / 333.7709711 V22rcga Vancouver Public Library

Reports to Council, Subject, the Grandview Highway Industrial Area and Still Creek By Vancouver (B.C.) Book – 1987 / 333.7709711 V22rcg Vancouver Public Library

Date: July 11, 1995
FROM: General Manager of Engineering Services
SUBJECT:  Fraserview and Still Creek Sewer Inflow and Infiltration Reduction Programs

Date: June 30, 1995 Council: July 18, 1995
SUBJECT The Vancouver Greenway Plan

CD-1 (249) Still Creek By-law No. 6654 (pdf) Effective April 24, 1990 (Amended up to and including By-law No. 9162, dated November 1, 2005)

Date: 18 April 2000 Council: May 2, 2000
FROM: General Manager of Engineering Services in consultation with the Director of City Plans
SUBJECT: Brunette Basin Watershed Plan

Date: June 22, 2000 P&E: July 27, 2000
FROM:  General Manager of Engineering Services in Consultation with the Director of City Plans, Director of Real Estate Services and Director of Legal Services
SUBJECT:  Proposed Lease of a Portion of Cornett Road, East of Skeena Street

Date: June 27, 2002 P&E: July 25, 2002
FROM:  Director of City Plans and the General Manager of Engineering Services in consultation with the General Manager of Parks and Recreation
SUBJECT: Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study – Recommendations for the Grandview Boundary Industrial Area

Date: June 27, 2002  P&E: July 25, 2002
FROM: Director of City Plans, in consultation with the General Manager of Engineering Services, the General Manager of Parks and Recreation and the Director of Legal Services
SUBJECT: Grandview Boundary Industrial Area Plan and Rezoning & Development Policies and Guidelines

Report Date: November 10, 2006 Meeting Date: November 30, 2006, Standing Committee on Planning and Environment
FROM: General Manager of Engineering Services in consultation with the Director of City Plans
SUBJECT: Integrated Stormwater Management Plan for the Still Creek Watershed

Report Date: January 4, 2011 Meeting Date: January 18, 2011
FROM: Director of Planning
SUBJECT: Amendment of the Grandview Boundary Industrial Area Rezoning and Development Policies and Guidelines

Report Date: July 13, 2011 Meeting Date: July 26, 2011
FROM: General Manager of Engineering Services
SUBJECT: Still Creek Enhancement Project – 2900 Nootka Street

Report Date: October 23, 2012 Meeting Date: October 31, 2012
FROM: Brian Jackson, General Manager of Planning and Development Services
SUBJECT: Grandview Boundary Mixed Employment Area: Update of Public Benefit Strategy (2012 – 2041)

Report Date: August 21, 2014 Meeting Date: September 16, 2014
FROM: General Manager of Planning and Development Services and General Manager of Engineering Services
SUBJECT: Still Creek Enhancement – Project Funding

Report Date: April 11, 2016 Meeting Date: April 19, 2016 Vancouver City Council
FROM: Acting Director of Parks and Acting Director of Sustainability
SUBJECT: Biodiversity Strategy

Vancouver’s Lost Salmon Streams Wriggle Back to Life: Residents aim to restore life long buried under urban development.” Pauline Holdsworth / 5 Jul 2014 / TheTyee.ca

Digitized maps reveal Vancouver’s lost streams.” Stephen Hui  / July 19th, 2011 / Georgia Straight

Tatlow and Volunteer Park stream restoration. City of Vancouver webpage