With the kiteboarders' season recently wrapped up, what is next in terms of the reclamation of the Spit in the estuary?
Edith Tobe, executive director of the Squamish River Watershed Society, tells The Squamish Chief the next 550 metres from the yellow gate toward the launching island will be removed.
The project team is in the process of getting the permits and approvals necessary for that work.
Ideally, those will be in place this fall. The work could begin sometime after that and be wrapped up by next May.
"It's going to look completely natural. So you'll never know that there was ever a road here to begin with," Tobe said, surveying the scene while walking the Spit.
The area where the Spit is now will look like the marsh area northeast of it.
"It'll take quite a bit of time for vegetation to grow because we're just leaving it as rock, and it's been compacted since 1970. But this is the beauty of nature."
Like with the first 300 metres, the material will be removed from the remaining section, leaving a weir — or raised area — along the bottom.
Crossing the weir?
About 80% of the time, fish will be able to get across, according to Tobe.
"20% of the time, the water may be below that level, so they can't get across. And it's seasonal," she said.
"We're designing in a manner that is not going to impact — or should have minimal to no impact — on the operation of Squamish Terminals, and provide the maximum that we can provide [for fish]. Even if we did bring the elevation all the way down, there are still certain times of the day that the tide’s out and the water wouldn't get across, right? It's just the nature of where we live."
The beach wood accumulating on the perimeter of the estuary will continue to accumulate and be used by a variety of species.
"Ideally, this will turn into what we call a tidal marsh zone with lots of woody debris, which has a whole bunch of complexity for migratory birds, for a whole bunch of species of fish. It is great for the otters and the weasels.. there's going to be a lot of rodents, probably. So a lot of diversity is what we're hoping for," she said, adding the driving force of the project is restoring chinook, but as a habitat biologist, she is looking at the restoration of the whole estuary.
The first 300 metres
As of last April, 300 metres of the training berm had been removed.
Tobe said the first three to four metres of soil that was removed was moved over to the Oceanfront Squamish lands.
Much of the armour rock under the soil was donated to the Squamish Nation to fortify the Cheekye, said Tobe.
She said there are agreements in the works for the remaining rock, too.
It is "way too early" to gauge the progress in the estuary so far, Tobe said.
A series of surveys were done following deconstruction.
With the end of freshet, more surveys will be done to compare the results.
"Our modelling basically suggests that we shouldn't expect very much, if any, sedimentation movement, and we'll measure that and see if our model is accurate," Tobe said.
"Nature isn't usually immediate in showing change... but what we're really focused on is getting the rest of this out and doing [that] post-construction monitoring as required by the regulators, for three to five years."
Overall, Tobe said at this point, she is "super, super happy" with the stage the project is currently at.
"We are on target," she said. "The bottom line is, we're in changing times, and the more we can do to restore nature, the more nature will help us out," she said.
Soil and rock
One surprise in the first stage of reclamation was that right at the island where it was severed, there was not the amount of rock she expected. It was mostly soil.
So 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 impress upon the public that this structure was never going to be long for this world. Right? It wasn't designed for the usage that we've been putting on it. Look at the wear and tear and the erosion of the sides already. So it just reaffirmed that we're trying to get ahead of nature, which is already naturally going to take this out," she said.
"Rather than just willy nilly [nature] eroding it, we're actually removing it; making it safer for the community, for the terminals."
The Spit reclamation is part of a larger project 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 storm events, also to filter the water out before it opens up into the ocean [and] predominantly funded for restoring chinook habitat, and that of other salmonids, to allow them access. As this is a giant nursery for the juvenile fish to grow — gain size from when they arrive as tiny little fingerlings, little tiny juveniles, to become sea-bearing smolts so that they can now go out into the ocean for much better survival."
From 1970, when the Spit went in, to current times, the chinook stocks have plummeted.
"The modification of the Spit is the final piece to this puzzle to really allow that accessibility between the river and the estuary for the migrating juvenile salmon to be able to make their way into all this rich habitat."
Standing on the footbridge, overlooking the tidal channels in the estuary, Tobe surveyed the estuary and reflected on what it has become and once was.
"From 1970 to 2001, the area of this site was known as the dredge spoils, and it was 15 hectares of brownfield," she said. "A big huge three-storey high pile of dirt that the dirt bikers from all over the Lower Mainland would come and do dirt biking on, and it was part of where they stockpiled the material when they built the five-kilometre training berm.
In 2001, Tobe worked with federal fisheries and Squamish Nation to remove all that material.
Tidal channels were built, " to make this habitat match the habitat on the other side of the tidal channel," Tobe said, adding that untold numbers of volunteers have worked on the project along the way.
"Since 2001, bit by bit, building the tidal channels, removing the fill material," the estuary has started to be restored, she added.
Find out more at www.restoretheshore.ca.