Watershed Facts

By: Fraser Riverkeeper  09-12-2011
Keywords: Salmon, Drainage Basin

Mining, manufacturing, logging, pulp and paper making, farming, and energy industries have lined the banks of the Fraser and have fed the region’s development. Consequent of this activity and loosely enforced environmental regulations, or inadequate statutes, the Fraser suffers from a wide range of pollutants, including heavy metals, excessive nutrients, bacteria, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins. In addition to the industrial stresses exerted on the region, new development pressures metastasize as the vibrant Vancouver region draws more residents and more economic activity. The Greater Vancouver Regional District now houses more than 2.1 million people. It is expected that in the coming 20 years the population will increase by another 50%. This growth has detrimental consequences on the watershed due to both the development of surfaces, which exacerbates storm water runoff and combined sewerage outfalls, and the increased demands upon already inadequate sewage treatment infrastructures.

Mouth: Fraser River Delta, Strait of Georgia

Length: The Fraser River is tenth longest river in Canada, and the longest in British Columbia, at 1,375 km (854 Miles), from source to mouth.

Drainage basin area (watershed): The Fraser Basin contains the Fraser River and numerous tributaries, including the Willow River, Quesnel River, Thompson River, Williams Lake River, Coquihalla River, Vedder River, McGregor River, Nechako River, West Road River, Chilcotin River, Bridge River, Harrison River, and the Stave River. The entire watershed drains to an area of 220,000 km² (85,000 sq mi).

Discharge rate at the River mouth: The Fraser River flows at an average rate of around 3550 m3/second (or 112km3 per year) and dumps up to 20 million tonnes of sediment at its mouth in the Fraser Basin Delta.

Ecological Significance

The Fraser River and its tributaries provide a habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. Vegetation adjacent to the river consists of a variety of conifer species such as White Spruce, Lodgepole Pine, and Douglas Fir. The river hosts a wide variety of marine and freshwater vertebrate species. Included in this, and found in mainly the estuarine parts of river, are six main salmonid species: pink, chum, coho, sockeye, and Chinook salmon — and rainbow trout. Many marine species exist, such as starry flounder, pearmouth chub , redside shine and stickleback.

Further upstream are species such as green sturgeon, coastal cutthroat trout, white sucker, pygmy whitefish, and chum salmon. The Fraser River is extremely important as it provides a spawning habitat for the pink Chinook and chum Pacific salmon species. The Fraser Delta, the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of Canada, hosts the Pacific Northwest’s most important salmon runs in North America.


Rivers of North America (Arthur C. Benke, Colbert E. Cushing – 2005)
Wikipedia – Fraser River

Keywords: Drainage Basin, Salmon

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Geography and Geology

The Fraser Basin system comprises the main Fraser River and a huge network of tributaries that drains more than a quarter of British Columbia before the river’s egress into the Pacific Ocean through Vancouver. Its headquarters are in the Mount Robson Provisional Park in the Rocky Mountains, and it passes across the dry Fraser Plateau and through the coastal mountain ranges to the Pacific Ocean.



At the delta mouth of the river in the Lower Fraser valley, there are a number of recreational opportunities including walking, bird watching, picnicking, fishing and boating. The riverhead is in the Rocky Mountains, and there it provides a haven for canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. There are viewpoints, parks, trails, and an aerial tram that can take sightseers across the Fraser River.



Further exploration continued as George Simpson came to the river in 1828 to decide whether Fort Langley would be adequate as the Hudson Bay Company’s main Pacific depot. Most of British Columbia’s history is linked to the Fraser River because it was an important and essential route between the Interior and the Coast.


Water Quality

After accessing all of the site-specific conditions and how well-protected the aquatic life is, the Index ranks waterbodies in the categories of Excellent, Good, Fair, Marginal, or Poor. It drains about one-quarter of the province’s water and ranges from central British Columbia, to Southwest British Columbia and east to the Rocky Mountains near Jasper.


The River

They do not damage or physically harm the adult fish; however, with the establishment of commercial salmon farming, sea lice parasites on juvenile salmon pose a great threat or even death to the young fish. Several organizations and biologists claim that salmon farming located along west Coast of BC are responsible for the dramatic decrease of wild sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in 2009.