The water is muddy, the colour of light chocolate as the heavy equipment bangs and clanks through it.
Mere metres away though, the Little Qualicum River runs clean and clear.
B.C. Ministry of Transportation biologist Sean Wong nods in satisfaction. Work to save the nearby bridge over Highway 19A — and provide improved habitat for salmon and trout — is going according to plan.
The work site is separated from the main river channel, he explained, by a temporary berm or plug that prevents the muddy silt stirred up by the machinery from entering the main river channel. A pond-like side channel has been excavated and woody debris has been put in place to provide habitat and rest for the fish.
“The river has been laterally eroding and migrating towards the highway,” Wong said. “Some emergency rock was put in after two flooding events, one in November of 2009 and another in January of 2010, but that actually created worse problems because when they placed it, more scouring and erosion was happening. It was going to hit the highway in one, two or who knows how many major flooding events and create a safety issue.”
The project will see a number of rock spines project six or seven metres out into the main river flow to direct the river to the opposite bank and under the bridge.
“This plan actually involves going upstream to create a more stable bank, rather than continuing to place rip rap near the highway,” Wong said. “It goes along about 200 metres.”
The side channel, he added, involves an excavation about 100 metres along a historic — but mostly dry — river channel on the grounds of the Cedar Grove Tent and Trailer Park. Dug to a depth of between 1.5 and two metres, the channel will not only provide shelter for nesting juvenile coho salmon and trout, but will also allow them a refuge from which to hunt the caddis flies and crayfish that abound in the main channel.
Wong concedes the $400,000 project is a work in progress and isn’t a terribly pretty sight right now, but he is confident that once it is landscaped and replanted vegetation has a chance to fully establish itself, it will be not only safer for the passing motorists on the bridge, but a visual asset as well.
“We’ll create a good riparian zone,” he said.
The project, which began two weeks ago, is expected to be completed in another two weeks.