Here’s the latest on Squamish Spit’s reclamation.
When approvals are in place, the next 550 meters will be removed.
As the kitesurfing season has just ended, what is the next step in terms of reclaiming the spit in the estuary?
Edith Tobe, Executive Director of the Squamish River Watershed Societytells Chief Squamish, the next 550 yards from the yellow gate to Launch Island will be removed.
The project team is in the process of obtaining the necessary permits and approvals for this work.
Ideally, these will be in place this fall. Work could start a little later and end next May.
“It’s going to look completely natural. So you’ll never know there’s ever been a road here,” Tobe said, surveying the scene as he walked on the spit.
The area where the arrow is now will look like the swampy area to the northeast of it.
“It will take a bit of time for the vegetation to grow because we just leave it as rock, and it’s been compacted since 1970. But that’s the beauty of nature.”
As with the first 300 meters, material will be removed from the remaining section, leaving a weir – or raised area – along the bottom.
Cross the weir?
About 80% of the time, fish will be able to cross, according to Tobe.
“20% of the time the water can be below that level, so they can’t cross. And that’s seasonal,” she said.
“We are designing in a way that will not impact – or should have minimal or no impact – on the operation of Squamish’s terminals, and provide the maximum we can provide [for fish]. Even if we reduced the elevation to the maximum, there are still certain times of the day when the tide is low and the water would not pass, right? It’s just the nature of where we live.”
The beach wood that accumulates around the edge of the estuary will continue to accumulate and be used by various species.
“Ideally it will turn into what we call a tidal marsh area with lots of woody debris, which has a whole bunch of complexity for migrating birds, for a whole bunch of fish species. It’s great for otters and weasels.. there will probably be a lot of rodents, so we’re hoping for a lot of diversity,” she said, adding that the driving force behind the project is chinook restoration, but as a biologist of the habitat, it is studying the restoration of the entire estuary.
The first 300 meters
Last April, 300 meters of the training berm had been removed.
Tobe said the top three to four meters of soil that was removed was moved to the Squamish facing the ocean lands.
Much of the armor rock under the ground has been donated to the Squamish Nation to fortify the Cheekye, Tobe said.
She said there were also deals in the works for the remaining rock.
It’s “far too early” to assess progress in the estuary so far, Tobe said.
A series of surveys were made following the deconstruction.
With the end of the flood, other readings will be taken to compare the results.
“Our modeling basically suggests that we shouldn’t expect much sedimentation movement, if any, and we’ll measure that and see if our model is accurate,” Tobe said.
“Nature is usually not immediate to show change… but what we really focus on is getting the rest out and doing it. [that] post-construction monitoring as required by regulators, for three to five years.”
Overall, Tobe said at this point she’s “super, super happy” with where the project is at now.
“We’re on target,” she said. “Ultimately, we live in a time of change, and the more we can do to restore nature, the more nature will help us,” she said.
Soil and rock
A surprise during the first stage of the reclamation was that right on the island where she was cut there was not the amount of rock she expected. It was mostly dirt.
Thus, the rock had been brought in to fortify the launch island.
“When I talk about the work we’re doing to remove the structure, it’s really hard to convey to the public that this structure was never going to last long for this world. Isn’t it? It wasn’t designed for the use that we’re looking at the wear and tear on the sides already, so it just reaffirmed that we’re trying to get ahead of nature, which will already naturally eliminate that,” she said.
“Rather than willy-nilly [nature] by eroding it, we actually remove it; making it safer for the community, for the endpoints.”
A bigger picture
The reclamation of Spit is part of a larger project that has been underway for decades to restore the estuary.
“Trying to restore the connectivity between the Squamish River and the central estuary and make this whole area functional… like a sponge, to withstand climate change and sea level rise and storms, also to filter the water before it opens into the ocean [and] primarily funded to restore chinook habitat and other salmonids to access. As this is a giant nursery for the growth of juvenile fish, they grow in size from when they arrive as tiny fry, tiny little juveniles, to become sea-bearing smolts so that they can now get out into the ocean for much better survival.
From 1970, when the Spit entered, until today, chinook stocks have fallen.
“The spit modification is the final piece of that puzzle to really allow that accessibility between the river and the estuary for migrating juvenile salmon to make their way through all of that rich habitat.”
Standing on the walkway, overlooking the tidal channels of the estuary, Tobe surveyed the estuary and reflected on what it has become and what it once was.
“From 1970 to 2001, the area of this site was known as the dredge spoils, and it was 15 hectares of brownfields,” she said. “A massive three-story pile of dirt that off-road riders from all over the Lower Mainland came to off-road bike on, and it was partly where they stored gear when they built the berm of five kilometer drive.
In 2001, Tobe worked with Federal Fisheries and the Squamish Nation to remove all of this material.
Tidal channels were built, “so that this habitat would match the habitat on the other side of the tidal channel,” Tobe said, adding that countless volunteers worked on the project along the way. .
“Since 2001, little by little, building the title channels, removing the fill material,” the estuary began to be restored, she added.
Learn more about www.restoretheshore.ca.