SQUAMISH RIVER ESTUARY
central estuary restoration
central estuary restoration
We are very excited to be further moving forward towards restoring salmon connectivity between the Squamish River and the central estuary! We started the Central Estuary Restoration Plan in 2017 with funding support from Coastal Restoration Fund, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, and Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program to developing and implementing improvements in the estuary to improve Chinook salmon stocks. This project is a partnership with Squamish Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada as part of reconciliation and working towards restoring declining Chinook salmon populations. Project stakeholders who play a regulatory or advisory role on this project include the provincial government, District of Squamish, Squamish Terminals, and Transport Canada.
The original plan involved a three phased approach to improve access for outmigrating juvenile Chinook salmon to access the estuary before heading out into the ocean. Phase 1 involved improving passage at key locations along the Training Berm. This resulted in upgrades to fish-friendly culverts mid-way down the berm at Culvert #3 (completed in 2019) and Culvert #4 (completed in 2020). Phase 2 of the project is planned to modify the lower Spit (approximately 850 m) to open up the lower estuary to over 400 hectares of estuarine habitat. Phase 3 will involve the installation of flow control structures along the CN Spur Line to reconnect tidal flows from the estuary into upper Cattermole Slough / Bridge Pond.
In order to undertake these exciting restoration activities numerous studies, monitoring programs, and engineering modelling had to be undertaken. In 2018 flood modelling and sediment transport modelling was completed. In 2019 and 2020 wave modelling and modelling for the removal of the lower Spit were completed. From 2017 to the present monitoring programs to establish base-line data and then collect annual data on fisheries and biophysical attributes in the estuary have been undertaken in order to determine the effectiveness of the restoration activities.
Planning for Phase 2 of the project is well underway and requires additional engineering design, modelling, and studies in advance of the physical Spit removal, which is planned to start this fall after September 15. This project is an exciting opportunity to reestablish the Squamish estuary as a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem that will not only lead to the improvement of Chinook and other salmonid populations but will improve the resiliency of the Squamish estuary to climate change, sea level rise, and wildlife habitat.
Once we have completed the requisite studies and engineering modelling designs we will be able to post a more detailed work schedule and update on the next steps as we move forward with Phase 2 of this project.
We are grateful to the funding support we have received for the 2021 fiscal year and to Coastal Restoration Fund, Healthy Waters Initiative, Pacific Salmon Foundation, BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, and Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.
There will be drilling equipment on the lower training berm and flag people onsite to guide alternating traffic during the day Friday, June 4.
The drilling is to do core heavy metals and soil sampling to determine the characterization of the materials of the berm and its suitability for relocation.
CERP Update May 2021:
Phase 2 of the Central Estuary Restoration Project is ongoing.
Phase 2 is looking to remove the most southerly portion of the training berm (Spit) from the yellow gate south to the windsport launching area.
The current intention is to leave the windsport launching/roundabout area as an island which can be accessed by water. A separate process led by Squamish Nation and the District of Squamish will explore how to access and animate the “island” for windsports and the community at large, in the short, medium and long term.
In early 2020, based on the outcomes of Phase 1 and ongoing studies and river modelling, it was shared with the broader community that significant alteration and removal of the lower training berm was imperative to returning the natural function of the Squamish Estuary as a critically important "nursery" for juvenile Chinook salmon and other species, and that removal of the lower training berm was possible in 2020. COVID and other logistical challenges delayed the river modelling studies and reports needed to proceed in 2020.
With further studies and river modelling completed in early 2021, findings continued to support the removal of the lower portion of the training berm, and that removal could begin as early as the fall of 2021.
After their peer review, the District of Squamish has indicated they have no outstanding issues with regard to flooding based on wave modelling and spit removal modelling.
Discussions are now focused on addressing outstanding technical concerns of the Squamish terminals and doing a deeper dive into the possible impacts, negative and positive, of the removal of the training berm on Squamish Terminals. Technical experts from CERP (collectively Squamish Nation, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Squamish River Watershed Society) and Squamish Terminals are discussing the scope of further studies on navigation, sedimentation, hydrology, woody debris and shoreline erosion and potential mitigative measures. These studies, modelling, design and deliberative technical discussions will take place over the spring and summer in 2021.
The Province through FLNRORD and the District of Squamish are also involved in these technical discussions.
Any removal of the Training Berm would not commence until after the wind sport season mid September.
In 2019 and in 2020 two undersized culverts were replaced with large fish-friendly concrete box culverts at locations referred to as Culverts #3 and #4. Monitoring of the effectiveness of these culverts is ongoing.
Phase 2-Southern Training Berm Removal 2020-2022.
The installation of a flow-control structure to reconnect tidal activity across the CN Spur Line is still in the development stage. Monitoring and discussion with land owners (DoS and TNTBC) is ongoing.
The Central Estuary Restoration Project (CERP) is a critical and high-value initiative to restore dramatically declining South Coastal Chinook salmon stocks and one of the most significant of several habitat restoration projects on BC’s south coast. It is also a fundamentally important step in reconciliation with the Squamish First Nation.
This multi-year partnership between the Squamish Nation, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Squamish River Watershed Society to restore natural fish connectivity between the river and the estuary is the culmination of over 25 years of research and scientific studies which has been ongoing with funding received for the past four years and has involved many important stakeholders including Squamish Terminals, the District of Squamish, and the Provincial Government, as well as other interested parties like the Squamish Windsports Society. Collaborative discussions to help all stakeholders and interested parties achieve a positive outcome for themselves have been ongoing since 2017 including a District of Squamish-led workshop in January 2020. The workshop was to address the removal of a portion of the lower Spit and outlined short and long-term alternatives for wind sport access. The result of that workshop was a list of actions that included direction for the SWS and the DOS to begin developing access plans that consider the removal of the spit and begin to raise funds for the alternative.
The CERP team is still in the process of analyzing scientific data and modelling, and discussions are ongoing with the partners and stakeholders to ensure that any potential flooding issues and sedimentation concerns are addressed with the District of Squamish and the Squamish Terminals respectively. The report that forms the basis of the next round of discussions is still under further consultation and evaluation and communications are ongoing.
“Everyone involved wants to see a positive outcome for stakeholders and interested parties,” says Squamish River Watershed Society spokesperson Patricia Heintzman. “That was the goal from the outset of this project and that goal continues today.
“We must also realize the two underlying imperatives of this project are 1) the success of juvenile Chinook stocks. Juvenile Chinook salmon are considered an at-risk species on the South Coast of British Columbia and are the primary food source for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. The Squamish Chinook salmon stock has been gravely impacted by the existence of the training berm and spit for 40 years, and 2) reconciliation with the people of the Squamish Nation to support their heritage and culture.”
For the past four years, the Squamish Windsports Society has been given the opportunity to find a positive outcome for wind sport enthusiasts who either live in Squamish or travel here to enjoy this world-class destination. It is up to every special interest group to be their own advocate, to bring their solutions that work within the mandate to restore critical habitat, and to ultimately raise funds for their solution. The District of Squamish and Tourism Squamish have also reached out to the windsports community.
SRWS and their CERP partners are committed to working with all interested parties who want to be a productive part of developing collaborative solutions and will help champion discussions around the long-term health and enjoyment of the estuary in an environmentally responsible manner.
The Central Estuary Restoration Project is funded through support from Coastal Restoration Fund, BC Hydro's Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the Healthy Waters Initiative, and the Pacific Salmon Foundation. The project falls under the national Ocean Protection Plan initiative to restore coastal aquatic habitats.
Work continues on the upgrade of the Culvert #4 along the Training Berm. On September 10th and 11th the culvert segments were installed and now the site is being backfilled, compacted, and the road bed is being reestablished.
We appreciate the patience from the public as we wrap up this exciting project. We expect to have the road open again starting October 1st!
Stay tuned for opportunities to volunteer to help us replant the riparian areas.
Great job by Whistler Excavating and amazing work by Gwil Crane in the unloading and placement of each culvert segment! A project of this magnitude has numerous moving pieces and the oversight and design by WSP engineering crew Kevin Henshaw and Justin Murray have been seamless.
Funding support has been provided by Coastal Restoration Fund, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Pacific Salmon Foundation, and, most recently, Canadian Wildlife Federation with funds from the BC Salmon Restoration Innovation Fund! This project is a partnership with Squamish Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada!
We are proceeding on time and on schedule with the upgrade of Culvert #4 to a fish friendly structure. From September 1 to 24 the Training Berm will be fully closed off to all traffic, pedestrian and vehicle, as we remove the existing culvert and then install the fish friendly 3m x 3m concrete box culvert later this month.
We are excited to have the opportunity to replace another culvert mid-way down the Squamish Training Berm (Culvert #4) with a larger fish-friendly opening this summer. The location of the work will be mid-way down the Berm just downstream of where the work was undertaken in 2019.
In the coming weeks we will be removing the vegetation alongside the culvert to clear the site and then prep the site to access the existing steel pipe culvert which will have to be removed. We plan to install the new fish-friendly box culvert during the summer low tide period in mid-September.
The proposed work schedule is:
August 10 - 31, 2020: Single Lane Closures (as we remove the vegetation and prep the site)
September 1 - 24, 2020: Full Road Closures with no access to traffic, cycling, or pedestrians
As always, these times are subject to change and we will keep this site up to date.
This project is an important step to provide access to the estuary for juvenile salmonids, especially Chinook salmon, that are leaving the Squamish River and need to enter into the estuary as part of their growth before they head out into Howe Sound. We are pleased to be working in partnership with Squamish Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada and with the support of the District of Squamish, the Provincial government, Squamish Terminals, the Squamish Windsports Society, the Squamish Streamkeepers, the Squamish Environment Society, the Squamish Trails Society, and the community and user groups.
The Squamish estuary has undergone significant impacts over the years and this project is a step to help improve the natural integrity of the estuary and improve ecological diversification and function.
Central Estuary Restoration Project Summer 2020 Update
The Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS), in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Squamish Nation, are overseeing the Central Estuary Restoration Project to improve fish access between the Squamish River and the central estuary. Under the project in 2019 one of the fish obstructing culverts along the Training Berm (Spit Road) was successfully replaced with a fish friendly concrete box culvert. Plans for this summer are to replace a second culvert further downstream. This project is important to improve access to the critical rearing habitat in the estuary for out-migrating juvenile salmon, particularly Chinook salmon.
The Central Estuary Restoration Project is a multi-phased / multi-year project that was developed to address the decline of Chinook salmon populations in the Squamish River watershed. The project includes three phases: culvert upgrades along the Training Berm; realignment of the lower section of the spit; and re-connection of tidal channels in the east estuary across the rail spur line that services the Squamish Terminals. The project is being developed in consultation with the project working group comprised of 30+ community, industry and government agency representatives. Concurrent to the culvert upgrades along the Training Berm, the project team is also focused on planning and assessment for spit realignment along with designing flow control structures across the spur line.
Discussions and technical assessment informing the spit realignment phase of the project is ongoing. The original plan to start work on the spit realignment as early as this year has been extended, and is now being considered for future years as solutions are being explored to provide an alternative route by which wind sport users can access the southern launch site of the Spit. To allow needed time for spit realignment planning, construction efforts for this year will instead focus on continuing to replace culverts along the Training Berm that are obstructing fish passage.
The project team is working closely with the Squamish Windsport Society, Province of BC and District of Squamish to develop construction plans for the culvert replacement for this summer. In preparation of the culvert replacement, in the coming weeks the site will be surveyed along with a geotechnical investigation at the culvert upgrade site. The road will remain open during survey and geotechnical investigation. Temporary road closures of the Spit Road are anticipated in mid-late August for culvert placement, more details on this will be provided in the coming weeks.
The SRWS is a charitable non-profit that takes a holistic approach to watershed management and has been leading habitat restoration and stewardship initiatives in partnership with government, First Nations, community and industry stakeholders since 1998. For more information please visit: www.squamishwatershed.com/cerp
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
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
With great support from Squamish Nation, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada our Central Estuary Restoration Project (CERP) partners; all the community stakeholders and representatives from all levels of government who have contributed as members of the CERP Working Group; and our contractors, design team, students, monitoring team and more - 2019 was a very productive year for the Central Estuary Restoration Project!
Since starting CERP in 2017 we have now completed phase 1 works, successfully upgrading a fish passage culvert across the training berm last spring. It was very exciting to see more freshwater flowing into the estuary when the construction was complete then had been in nearly 30 years. We continue to monitor the culvert and estuary to measure how works are improving fish access and habitat.
We met with our stakeholder working group in spring 2019, who have provided valuable input to the planning process for phases 2 & 3 of CERP. Throughout the summer and fall of 2019 the CERP project team continued stakeholder discussions, and we are looking forward to our next working group meeting in 2020. CERP is being led by the SRWS in partnership with Squamish Nation and DFO, and it is through the collaboration and support of community stakeholders and groups that we are able to realize our project outcomes. We greatly value the time, support and feedback of our working group members!
At present we are undertaking coastal modeling examining how changes to the alignment of the training berm (the Spit road) may impact water or sediment distribution in the lower flood plain. This information will be used to inform realignment discussions with stakeholders, and the eventual design process. In the current alignment the training berm is effectively flushing hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon, particularly Chinook salmon to the Howe Sound before they are ready, limiting their likelihood of survival. As we work through the coastal modeling process, and discussions with stakeholders in 2020 we will be have more details on spit realignment and will also provide regular updates.
Chinook salmon are an at risk species on the South Coast, and our efforts to support their survival is part of a larger habitat restoration initiative under the Federal Ocean Protection Plan. Chinook salmon are the king of the salmon (or reindeer....see above picture). They are integral to our coastal ecosystem, and need our help to survive. Over the years we have worked together in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation to undertake major restoration projects throughout the Squamish River Watershed. As we build on our past work, fish access to the estuary for emerging juvenile salmon is a big piece of the watershed restoration puzzle that is being developed in the same spirit of past projects. Questions are always welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Love, peace and holiday fishes to you!
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.