The Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS) is a registered charitable non-profit organization that takes a collaborative approach to watershed management. We work in partnership with industry, First Nations, community and government stakeholders to preserve and restore the integrity of the Squamish River watershed. The SRWS has been leading restoration enhancement projects from the headwaters to the flood plain of the Squamish estuary since 1998.
The Squamish River training berm, known locally as the Spit Road, was installed in the 1970s to 'train' the river to the west bank, and accommodate a deep sea coal port in the central estuary. The river was also dredged at this time, and the dredge material was placed on the central estuary to infill the area for port facilities. Following road building and infilling works public concern was raised on the continued industrialization of the Squamish Estuary. To address this the federal and provincial governments of the day halted further construction works, and started the Squamish Estuary Management Planning process in the late 1970s to maintain a balanced approach to development in critical habitat. While construction was halted, the road that bisects the estuary and the infill remained. The outcome of this federal-provincial planning process is summarized in the 1982 and 1999 Squamish Estuary Management Plan, and 2007 Skwelwil'em-Squamish Wildlife Management Area Plan wherein opportunities to restore, enhance and maintain fish and wildlife habitat in the area that had been previously impacted are identified.
The SRWS has been implementing restoration and enhancement works identified through the estuary planning process. This included the successful removal of the dredge material from the central estuary, restoration of tidal channels in the estuary and re-connection of the river and the estuary through a series of 9 culverts placed across the training berm (2001 – 2013). The culverts were installed to allow for freshwater-saltwater exchange in the estuary, and for fish passage for juvenile salmonids that are emerging from the river. In this rearing life stage salmonids require access to the estuary as they undergo physiological transitions needed for their life at sea.
For the past five years, the SRWS has been undertaking fisheries assessment work to determine if the 9 culverts are permitting fish access. From this work it has been determined the culverts are not effectively permitting fish access from the river into the estuary and the restored habitat in the estuary is significantly underutilized, especially by juvenile Chinook salmon. Result suggest the training berm is essentially flushing the juvenile fish to deep ocean, and is likely effecting stock survival rates. When compared to other estuaries, the presence of fish in the Squamish Estuary is devastatingly low despite considerable and ongoing efforts to restore access and habitat since the 1970s. Beach seine, fyke net and minnow trapping and pit tagging across multiple years has been applied to assess fish presences to date, comparing this data with known values of emerging salmon from the Cheakamus River determined using rotary screw traps. In 2019 we will be expanding our fish monitoring program to include acoustic telemetry tagging that will provide insight into the spatial distribution of fish in the estuary.
Pacific Salmon, particularly Chinook species, are under considerable stress and populations have been in decline for years. In 2019 Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that all but 1 of the 13 Chinook Salmon Fraser River Chinook salmon populations are at risk, which is consistent with local assessment findings. Fisheries and Oceans Canada outline that the science is clear and the loss of these populations would be disastrous to resource-recreation economies, and the fish and wildlife that depend on this species. In particular, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population, that is listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act feeds on Chinook salmon as their primary food source.
In partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Squamish Nation the SRWS was awarded funding in 2017 for the Central Estuary Restoration Project to improve fish habitat and access, particularly for juvenile Chinook in the estuary. The three phases of the project include:
Since initial funding was awarded the SRWS has been working with the province of BC, District of Squamish and community and industry stakeholders on the planning and implementation of the project. Detailed river and coastal flood modeling, sediment transport analysis, biophysical, fish, bathymetric and geotechnical assessment are being undertaken to inform project engineering and design.
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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.