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As B.C. rivers face unprecedented drought levels, conservationists are turning to beavers, nature’s engineers, to help retain water. Beaver dam analogues are being tested as a potential solution to the water crisis.

In the face of a severe drought that's left rivers in British Columbia's northern Interior at their driest in years, conservationists are seeking unconventional solutions. Their answer? Enlisting the help of Canada's iconic beavers.

Residents of Prince George, a city in northern B.C., are witnessing the alarming effects of the drought firsthand. Harriet Schoeter, a local who has lived in the city for six decades, remarked on the unprecedented low levels of the Fraser and Nechako rivers. "I've never seen it this low," she commented, noting that the water was so shallow she could nearly traverse the riverbed on foot.

Wayne Salewski, a representative from the Nechako Environment and Water Stewardship Society, echoed Schoeter's concerns. Describing the river's condition as "horridly low," he emphasized the dire implications for the region's aquatic life, including salmon and sturgeon, as well as the communities that rely on these rivers for their livelihood.

To address this urgent issue, Salewski's non-profit organization is turning to an unexpected ally: beavers. Known as "nature's engineers," beavers have a natural propensity for building dams that retain water, creating a potential solution to the depleting river levels.

Data from Environment and Climate Change Canada reveals the gravity of the situation. The Fraser River near Prince George is experiencing its lowest levels in 17 years, while the Nechako River has reached its driest point since records began.

In collaboration with engineers from the University of Northern B.C., Salewski's team is exploring the potential of beaver dam analogues (BDAs). Common in several U.S. states, these artificial structures emulate the wood-and-mud dams crafted by beavers to conserve water in small pools. Mauricio Dziedzic, chair of UNBC engineering, highlighted the durability and effectiveness of beaver dams, noting their meticulous construction using wood, mud, and the beaver's distinctive flat tail.

Salewski asked engineers at the University of Northern B.C. to help plan beaver dam analogues (BDAs), a promising fix that's common in Washington, Idaho and other U.S. states. Sometimes also known as artificial logjams, the idea is to simulate the flat-tailed rodents' wood-and-mud dams to retain tributaries' moisture in small pools. "Beavers are nature's engineers," said Mauricio Dziedzic, chair of UNBC engineering. "They tend to build dams that hold for quite a while."

B.C. has already initiated several pilot projects to test the viability of BDAs. The B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) and researchers from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology have installed nearly a dozen of these structures near Merritt, B.C. With plans to construct at least 100 more across the province, the BCWF aims to encourage beavers to maintain these man-made dams.

Neil Fletcher, BCWF's conservation stewardship director, described the BDAs as a "starter kit for a beaver." He believes that these structures can play a pivotal role in post-fire recovery and addressing the challenges posed by drought and climate change.

Last spring, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation granted the BCWF $100,000 to expand the BDA initiative across B.C., according to CBC News. While the impact of BDAs on fish populations remains a topic of study, evidence from the U.S. suggests that salmon can navigate past these structures or utilize their pools.

Salewski is optimistic about the potential of BDAs, especially given their cost-effectiveness and the possibility of beavers assuming responsibility for their upkeep. He envisions a future where these structures pave the way for wetland corridors, fostering a more resilient waterway system in the region.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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