By Cherish Elwell, Niagara Restoration Council
In 2001, the Niagara Restoration Council (NRC) identified a cold water sulphur spring that drains into Buckhorn Creek as a potential barrier to fish migration.
The existence of sulphur springs in the Niagara region was not a new discovery; but the potential for these springs to act as barriers to fish migration was a cause for concern. In fact, several cold water sulphur springs have been identified in the Niagara peninsula. These springs are all quite similar – temperatures range between 9 and 10 °C year round, they smell of sulphur, and are blue-grey in color.
In 2006, with financial assistance from the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, and in partnership with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the City of Hamilton, the Glanbrook Landfill Coordinating Committee and Niagara College, the Niagara Restoration Council employed Biotactic Fish and Wildlife Research to determine if the Buckhorn creek sulphur spring was a natural environmental feature and if it was a chemical barrier to fish movement.
A series of experiments was conducted, the first, showed that the cold water spring at Buckhorn Creek produces a chemical barrier that extends about 500 meters downstream during low flow periods.
Electrofishing surveys revealed fish were present both upstream and downstream from the spring, suggesting that fish passage is possible. It was determined that these springs are of natural origin and that the Buckhorn Creek sulphur spring contributes to biodiversity with regionally (and perhaps globally) unique purple sulphur bacteria, primitive cyanobacteria and other species worthy of conservation.
It was determined that the Buckhorn spring is not a complete barrier to fish movement during high flow events like the spring freshet which stimulates many fish species to migrate upstream. Approximately 500 meters of habitat downstream from the spring is unsuitable for fish during low flow conditions. The spring contributes to base-flow in the creek, especially during summer, and upstream and downstream from the “reaction zone”, a multitude of fish, insect, amphibian and reptile species were observed. It is therefore concluded that the Spring does not produce a complete barrier to fish movement throughout the year, and does not require remediation.
The Niagara Restoration Council is interested in locating previously unrecorded cold water sulphur springs. If you are aware of the location of a potential cold water sulphur spring please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone at (905) 788-0248. This study was presented at the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund conference in December 2006 and the American Fisheries Society Ontario Chapter Annual General Meeting in March 2007. Copies of the final report will be available via our website at www.niagararestoration.org.