Nova Scotia

Federal order for Windsor causeway fish passage could extend 12 weeks

An order issued late Friday afternoon by federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan related to the causeway in Windsor, N.S., is getting mixed reviews. Fishermen and Indigenous groups are pleased, but local farmers and paddlers are not.

Fishermen, Indigenous groups pleased with ministerial order; farmers, paddlers are not

The gates beneath the Highway 101 causeway in Windsor have been ordered to be opened for two weeks by federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

An order issued late Friday afternoon by federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan related to the Highway 101 causeway in Windsor, N.S., is getting mixed reviews.

The order means Nova Scotia's Department of Agriculture must operate the tidal gates at the Avon River in a manner that improves fish passage.

It says the gates must be fully opened during outgoing tides and again during incoming tides to allow a minimum of 10 minutes of salt water from the Bay of Fundy to enter the lake upstream of the gates.

The two-week order was put in place March 20 and will expire April 3. An email from the minister's office said there is "intent to issue subsequent Orders until mid-June."

The order is a small victory for local fishermen and Indigenous groups who have been pushing for improved water flow through the causeway that will allow fish to head further up the Avon River.

"It's nice to see the order finally being released from Minister Jordan's office," said local commercial fisherman Darren Porter. "It could be an extremely good victory for the fish and the ecosystem."

Fisherman Darren Porter is pleased with the decision to open the causeway gates to allow for better fish passage. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Last summer, Indigenous groups set up an encampment next to the causeway and are still there making their point that the causeway gates should remain open so fish can pass through.

"I'm pretty stoked about the decision," said Zacchary Paul, a member of Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton, who arrived at the causeway site last summer. "It's good to see the river back to flowing like a river again."

But the opening of the gates has drastically lowered the level of water on the other side of the highway in Lake Pisiquid. That's putting the local paddling club in a tenuous position.

"If this continued through the summer this would put an end to our club," said Sheldon Hope, vice-commodore of the Pisiquid Canoe Club.

Hope said spring paddling will not take place this year. If the water levels aren't brought back up, the club could be forced to suspend operations.

"We would not be able to offer programming to our 150-plus athletes because we just wouldn't be able to operate in those conditions," Hope said.

With water now drained from the lake, the Pisiquid Canoe Club could be forced to shut down. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Further upstream from the paddling club are numerous large farms along the Avon River.

Last year, when the gates were opened, farmers said salinity levels in the river rose. When the water from the river was used to irrigate crops, some were damaged.

"With salinity, the outside leaves of our strawberry plants just turned crispy brown," said Alyson Bremner, an eighth generation farmer in the area and co-owner of Linked Farms, a mixed livestock and fruit and vegetable farm in Upper Falmouth.

Linked Farms said strawberry plants were damaged last summer by water drawn from the Avon River, which farmers said had elevated levels of salinity after the causeway gates were opened. (Linked Farms)

The ministerial order was not communicated to Bremner as of Wednesday morning. If it continues to go on for 12 weeks and not just two, Bremner will have to make some big decisions.

"It's very troubling because we've already put the investment in for the infrastructure to irrigate with," said Bremner. "We've already ordered our plants, we've already made arrangements to hire labour to do the work."

She also worries about preserving a safe source of drinking water for livestock.

Much of the Highway 101 twinning preparation work has been done on both sides of the Avon River. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The water flow and fish passage issue is about to hit another critical stage.

Highway 101 is being twinned and much of the road preparation has been completed on both sides of the river.

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation said it is working with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the design of a new structure for water flow. 

"At this time, those discussions have not impacted the timeline for the 101 twinning, anticipated to begin this summer and be complete by the end of 2023," Deborah Bayer said in an email.