Many communities in Southern B.C., including Squamish have declared a state of climate emergency. Our global addiction to fossil fuels is loading our atmosphere with emissions and our once predicable weather patterns are shifting resulting in more frequent, extreme and unpredictable events the likes of which we have never observed. As the effects of a warming planet are being observed first hand at the local level, communities are sounding the alarms, and this can leave many of us feeling helpless in the face of this global challenge, which begs the question how can we be part of the solution, how one community effect change?
Through the Central Estuary Restoration Project the climate emergency is very much on our mind. The focus of the project is to restore access for juvenile Chinook to the Squamish River Estuary as our studies indicate that the Squamish River Training Berm is flushing these fish to sea before they are ready, and likely impacting their rate of survival. Chinook salmon are an at-risk species, and the primary food source for the endangered southern resident killer whales. As the climate emergency grows, these keystone species face increasing threat from factors such as ocean acidification and rising water temperatures. How one community effect change? Through realignment of the Squamish River training berm, we can increase the number of Chinook that make it to their adult life stage, to return home and spawn the next generation, and hopefully reduce the risk of species extinction that would be felt throughout the food web.
It is not just fish however that are being flushed out to sea by the Squamish River training berm, the sediments from the 3600 km2 Squamish River watershed are also being flushed out to sea. In a functioning estuary sediment flows over and settles into the marsh, feeding the food web from the bottom up with nutrients, and building up the marsh in a process known as sediment accretion. As sediments accrete, they counter the effects of erosion from waves and tides, and buffer the impacts of sea level rise, and storm surge events that threaten to inundate coastal communities. Sediment also caps marsh vegetation, providing one of the richest sources of carbon capture of any habitat type – in terms of carbon banks, estuaries are the richest! Check out our Blue Carbon Project page for more information on carbon and estuaries.
A healthy estuary provide provides us with ecosystem services such as water quality management, flood protection and carbon sequestration that would cost tax payers millions to replace. In fact, when examining the costs to upgrade sea dike in Boundary Bay, in Southern B.C. in anticipation of 1m of sea level rise by 2100, it was estimated that estuary enhancements could save more than $80 million in capital infrastructure costs, while restoring critical habitat.
How can one community effect change? By realigning the Squamish River Training berm we can partially restore the sediment budget in our estuary, so that it can continue to protect Squamish from the effects of sea level rise. Re-connection of the estuary will also reduce the water levels upstream of the estuary, by creating room for river across the flood plain potentially reducing the risk of river flood events, and offsetting some of the costs needed to upgrade flood infrastructure.
The Squamish River Watershed Society continues to monitor water quality, soil carbon, sediment accretion, vegetation, and fish in the estuary, and through the Central Estuary Restoration Project, and with the support of the community we hope to help in our collective efforts at addressing the climate emergency. To learn more about the project please visit: https://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.