SḴWX̱WÚ7MESH/SQUAMISH RIVER ESTUARY
central estuary restoration
central estuary restoration
It has been a very busy year with the opening of 300m of the Training Berm construction taking place from January until April of 2022. This first stage was to provide a partial opening that could be studied during the summer freshet and analyzed to determine how consistent the real time observations compared with the modelling of the opening. The material removed for the 300m opening included over 40,000 cubic metres of overburden sand/rock/gravel along with the underlying armour rock. Most of the upper sand/rock/gravel layers was transported to the Squamish Oceanfront lands and most of the remaining armour rock was donated to Squamish Nation for refortifying the Cheakamus River where it is eroding above the Cheekye River confluence.
Monitoring for fish passage and biophysical changes has continued in the 2022 field season and is currently being summarized by InStream Fisheries Research Inc (IFR). One hundred juvenile Chinook salmon were tagged (70 wild and 30 hatchery) and released in the upper Squamish River. The fisheries crew were able to monitor 66 of these fish and observed 21% entering into the Squamish estuary via various portals including swimming around, entering through the new fish-friendly box culverts as well as through the 300m opening. Fisheries monitoring will resume in May of 2023.
The next stage of the project is to modify the remaining 550 m to allow a full 850m opening from the yellow gate south. The original wind surfing launch site has been left as a stand-alone island now referred to as Spit Island. This has allowed the wind sport community to continue to launch from this desirable location. Access to the site is now via water instead of driving all the way down.
Anyone visiting the Training Berm / Spit at low tide will notice a weir was left in place. This ensures that sedimentation and gravel bars within the Squamish River will not migrate over into the central estuary basin. Furthermore, the removal of the upper 4m of the original Spit berm allows over 80% tidal exchange daily and provides ample opportunity for outmigrating juvenile salmonids to enter into the nutrient rich waters of the central estuary.
Once all permits and approvals have been secured the plans are to resume work this coming January 2023 to modify the remaining 550m.
The Squamish River Watershed Society has a long history of undertaking large scale fisheries and wildlife restoration projects over the past 20 years. These projects have included restoring anadromous access to the upper Elaho River, rewatering the Mamquam Blind Channel, creating wetland habitats, and creating thousands of metres of tidal channels throughout the Squamish Estuary. To accomplish these winning projects the SRWS has worked closely with Squamish Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Provincial government, the District of Squamish and the local community. The results have been significant with the conversion of over 21 hectares of brownfield development back into fully functional estuarine habitat as well as the creation of over 15 hectares of wetlands, to name but a few of the multitude of projects.
The SRWS undertakes a scientific approach towards restoration activities, collecting years of data in advance of any physical works so there is a full understanding of how the restoration project achieve maximum benefits to improving the natural environment. In the past few years, the SRWS has been able to secure funding to make improvements in the Squamish estuary to restore declining Chinook salmon populations. These restoration efforts have included upgrading culvert crossings along the Squamish Training Berm and creating tidal connectivity between the Squamish River and the estuary which has allowed some of the juvenile Chinook salmon making their way down the river to access to the brackish waters of the inner estuary that will sustain them before they enter onto their 4-year ocean voyage. This work has involved detailed flood modelling, sedimentation transport studies, and biophysical monitoring to ensure no adverse impacts on flood risk for the municipality or increased risk of sedimentation deposition that could impact downstream industries such as the Squamish Terminals. Currently, the SRWS is working towards modifying the lower Training Berm, known locally as the Spit, from just south of the yellow gate (south of the Chelem Trails) to the wind surfing launch site, which will remain in place as a stand-alone island. This modification, the Restore the Shore Project, is an important step to open over 144 hectares of rich estuary habitat to outmigrating Chinook fry, instead of the current conditions that are prematurely flushing the juvenile salmon out into Howe Sound before they have a chance to grow into their next phase as smolts with scales to protect them on their ocean journey. As with any large-scale project the SRWS has conducted detailed engineering modelling and design including studying the potential changes that may be associated with this project. To this end wind and wave modelling have been completed in addition to the previous sedimentation transport and flood modelling. As well, a simulation for the pilots who operate the ships that come into port at the Squamish Terminals was completed to ensure the proposed works would not adversely affect shipping transport and operations.
The results of these recent studies have clearly indicated a net benefit to not just the estuary but also to the operations of the Squamish Terminals which will likely benefit from a decrease in sedimentation accumulation between the Spit and the Squamish Terminals western berth, that currently is occurring from the back eddying of the Squamish River. Furthermore, the modifications to the lower berm will allow the estuary to perform in a more naturalized manner, with sedimentation and woody debris spreading out throughout the estuary, rather than accumulating in pockets in front of the Squamish Terminals.
Projects such as this are intended to provide a buffer against the impending climate change by restoring the resiliency of our natural systems to withstand sea level rise and climate change. This project is in concert with other restoration efforts being undertaken in the Salish Sea to turn the tide on declining Chinook salmon stocks. A healthy and vibrant ecosystem also means a healthy and vibrant economy and projects such as the modification of the Spit will be a win-win-win for First Nations, Salmon, and Industry/Tourism/Business.
The SRWS is proud to partner with Squamish Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the “Restore the Shore” project as part of indigenous reconciliation and efforts to rebuild the declining Chinook salmon populations. This project will also rebuild many of the ecological services the estuary provides, as is summarized in the report “Natural Capital Assets of the Squamish Estuary”.
To learn more about this project please check out : www.restoretheshore.ca.
Please see the notice below and provide any comments on the on-line Navigable Waters Registry as noted in the links below. Information on the project description in the registry was updated on October 7th, 2021.
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), 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.