Improving fish passage in the Cheakamus River Watershed

Project Year: 2022-2023

Multi-year Project

View Provincial Database Record

Photo: iStock randimal

Project Lead

Squamish River Watershed Society


Coastal Region


Project Type

Habitat-Based Actions

FWCP Contribution


Action Plan Alignment

Rivers, Lakes & Reservoirs

Project ID


Phase 2: Squamish Estuary Lower Training Berm Modification

This multi-year project is focused on the restoration of declining Chinook salmon populations in the Salish Sea and reconciliation with the Squamish Nation on the loss of their historic village and lands within the estuary.

A berm constructed in the estuary in the 1970s, without the engagement of the Squamish Nation, is impeding fish passage. This phase of the project will modify the berm to significantly restore access to more than 144 hectares of estuarine habitat to out-migrating juvenile salmonids, with a focus on Chinook salmon.

Executive Summary

The Central Estuary Restoration Project is the culmination of over forty years of planning and development between Squamish Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the provincial government, and the Squamish River Watershed Society to restore salmon habitat and tidal connectivity between the Squamish River and the central estuary. In the early 1970s a Training Berm road was constructed from the Mamquam River down to Howe Sound in order to confine the Squamish River to allow the construction of a deep sea coal port in the estuary. The 5 km road was completed in 1972. At the same time regulatory agencies back in the day determined the Squamish estuary was not a good location for a coal port and then spent the ensuing years studying the biological diversity within the estuary.

In the early 2000s DFO, and then the SRWS, embarked on installing nine culvert crossings across the Training Berm to re-establish tidal/river exchange. In addition to this work, in early 2001 the SRWS secured funding through the former Bridge Coastal Restoration Program (File #01LM18) to remove the 15-hectare dredge spoils site associated with the construction of the Training Berm/Coal Port and construct salmon habitat and tidal channels throughout the site.

The ensuing years resulted in numerous projects that were supported by Squamish Nation and government agencies to restore salmon habitat throughout the estuary. Studies and ongoing research over the decades allowed for greater insights into the effectiveness of these restoration efforts and whether juvenile salmonids were able to access the estuary form the river and the benefits to salmon stocks and increased biodiversity. The results were observations that salmon were not able to move across the nine culvert openings which likely resulted in undue mortality in the outmigrating juvenile Chinook salmon.

In 2018 the SRWS was able to develop an ambitious project to improve fish passage between the river and the estuary through a three phased approach. The first phase was to replace culverts at key locations with fish-friendly passageways. This resulted in the replacement of two culverts respectively in 2019 and 2020 at Culvert #3 and Culvert #4. Phase 2 of the project was to modify the lower Spit portion of the Berm that all but shot juvenile salmonids out into Howe Sound before giving them an opportunity to enter into the brackish waters of the estuary. This resulted in 2021 with the initial stage 1 of the project to open 300m of the 850m portion of the Spit structure. This phase of the work was completed in May 2022. The next stage 2 is proposed for the coming year to remove the remaining 550m to complete the 850m opening. The third phase of the project is for the future to restore additional connectivity through the Cattermole Slough and Bridge Pond, an important overwintering and rearing site for coho salmon and juvenile Chinook salmon.

This current report focuses on the work completed as part of this year’s project (COA-F23-F3643) which was in continuation of the restoration initiated in the previous fiscal year as part of File #COA-F22-F-3475. Much of the results and observations are the same as provided in the previous years report. However, fisheries and biophysical monitoring for the 2022 season commenced in early April and continued until late September 2022. The results of the monitoring program will be synthesized and compared with monitoring completed in previous years. As well, following the completion of the 300m opening the site was surveyed using drone video overflights taken at low tide combined with lidar/bathymetry surveys of the site from the former Spit to the west berth of the Squamish Terminals. These two surveys were then duplicated in early October towards the end of the summer freshet period in order to determine if there was any movement of bedload or sedimentation.

The current status of the project is preparing for the final stage of removing the remaining 550m of the Spit/Berm. In May of 2022 applications were once again submitted to Transport Canada to obtain authorization under the Navigable Waters Act, as well as to the Provincial Government to secure authorization under the Water Sustainability Act and Wildlife Act. The hope is that all permits will be secured by December 2022 to allow the remaining work to commence in early January 2023.

Click the provincial database link below to read the full final report for this project.

View more about this project on the provincial database