The Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS) is working in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Squamish Nation to restore fish access and habitat in the Squamish River Estuary. As part of this project the SRWS held it’s third annual stakeholder meeting on February 28th 2020, during which more then 30 members of the Central Estuary Project (CERP) Working Group gathered to share project updates and dialog. Discussions around the CERP project started in 2017 and in keeping with more than 40 years of estuary planning and restoration, the CERP could not be realized without the collaborative input and representation from First Nations, the Federal, Provincial and Local Government, stakeholders, and community!
As many in the community are aware, the Squamish River Training Berm was installed in the 1970s to ‘train’ the river to the west side of the valley and allow for the development of a coal port in the Estuary. While the coal port was denied the berm remained as an abandoned industrial facility isolating the river from the estuary flood plain. Starting in the 1990s, ten culverts were installed in an effort to reconnect tidal flows between the Squamish River and the estuary. In 2011 the SRWS initiated a multi-year monitoring program to study if the culverts were effectively providing fish access for estuary bound juvenile salmon, particularly Chinook, that live in estuaries as the prepare for life at sea. Effectiveness monitoring continues to demonstrate that the culverts are not functioning in a manner that allows fish passage between the river and the estuary, and the berm is flushing hundreds of thousands of juvenile Chinook annually straight to sea, thereby impacting their rate survival. The berm is thought to be a major contributing factor to overall Chinook species survival in the watershed.
Since the 1970s the berm has taken on a life of its own beyond that which it was designed for. The structure appears to provide some navigation protection for Squamish Terminals; the upper reaches provide flood protection to downtown Squamish and Dentville until such time as a proposed sea dike is developed; and recreationalists and naturalists use the berm to access the Wildlife Management Area. Most notably, the area has become a world-renowned launch area for kiteboard enthusiasts as it offers consistent winds throughout the summer season. The focus of the CERP is improve fish habitat and accessibility to the central estuary, but the project also has associated benefits that can make our community more resilient to adapt to the effects of sea level rise. The training berm, continues to limit estuary function by isolating flows from the Squamish River into the central estuary basin, flushing needed sediments to sea. The District of Squamish’s Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan concludes that the berm will be costly to preserve from the effects of sea level rise, and recommends development of a sea dike that would render it redundant from a flood management perspective. Through the CERP, the Squamish River Watershed Society is engaging in a bigger conversation on estuary planning and management, with the immediate focus of the project supporting survival of Chinook salmon, that are the primary food source for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Through our work we are actively supporting discussions with stakeholders in addressing the bigger questions on estuary planning, while identifying opportunities to fix our salmon problem.
So, what is being done? The short answer is we are developing engineering models to inform stakeholder discussions and planning. In January 2020 we completed our first round of wave modeling that examines the potential change in wave height if the lower section of the training berm is removed. Starting next we are looking at coastal hydrodynamic modeling to tell us potential changes to water levels, sediment transport and flow if the lower section of the training berm is removed – this is expected to be completed in summer 2020. The hydrodynamic model assumes that the current kite board launch area will remain in place at the south end of the Spit, and will provide information for discussion with the project partners and stakeholders to develop a realignment strategy that avoids flood risk, maintains safe navigation and includes recreational access. Regarding recreational access, the SRWS has also been engaged in a District of Squamish led process with the Squamish Windsport Society, focused on maintaining recreational access as a part of the CERP planning with the Squamish Windsport Society and will continue to engage in this process. The Squamish River Watershed Society is committed to working with ALL stakeholders in developing viable options to improve Chinook salmon habitat across the training berm in a manner that can be supported by the community. For more information on the project please visit: www.squamishwatershed.com/central-estuary-restoration.html
The Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS), formed in 1998, takes a holistic approach towards watershed management, examining the headwaters down to the estuary and into Howe Sound. We are committed to enhancing and preserving the integrity of the Squamish Watershed, focusing on key environmental factors and human influences.