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‘Friends’ set to rescue fish in drained canal

A group of volunteers will spend Saturday rescuing fish trapped in a drained irrigation canal north of Fort Macleod.
Volunteers with Peigan Friends Along the River will pull all manner of fish from the canal to be returned to the Oldman River.
A core group of volunteers has returned every October for more than two decades after the canal is drained by the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District.
“We can always use help,” Harley Bastien of Peigan Friends Along the River said.
That core group includes Bastien, his wife Betty and family members Raiden, Trevor, Jamie and Kalli Bastien, John Mahoney, Peter Balgus and his sons, Mark Chapman, John Chapman and Waldon Big Weasel.
The core group will be missing one of the regulars this year, but he will be in their hearts.
Roger Creasy, a long-time Shell Canada employee and volunteer with Peigan Friends Along the River, died recently in B.C.
“I would like to dedicate this rescue to Roger’s memory,” Bastien said.
Volunteers walk the flume several times, pushing the fish to a central location where they are collected in nets, weighed and measured.
The first push of fish through the canal will start about 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Bastien estimated the group will make at least four pushes about an hour apart throughout the day in order to drive all the fish through the flume to the central catching point.
Volunteers should be prepared for a day outdoors. Water-proof clothing such as hip or chest waders is recommended, and a dip net will be helpful.
Last year volunteers pulled about 3,000 fish representing all species found in the Oldman River from the canal.
The fish rescue has earned a strong reputation, being nominated three times for an Alberta Emerald environmental award and being included on the Crown of the Continent geo-tourism map.
Bastien said the rescue has also raised awareness in the southern region, prompting the province to make fish exclusion gates mandatory on new dams to keep the fish out of the irrigation canals.
The Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District flume is about 10 kilometres northwest of Fort Macleod, just off Highway 785.
“I never thought it would go this long,” Bastien said. “When it first started there was just a handful of us and I never thought it would go this long.