Good morning, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
I'm very happy to be here and to have the opportunity to speak with you today.
Good morning everyone.
As already introduced, my name is Rebecca Reid. I'm the regional director general for DFO, Pacific region. I'm joined by my colleagues Ms. Jennifer O'Donoughue, chief financial officer in the national capital region, and Mr. Andrew Thomson, regional director, fisheries management, Pacific DFO.
I would like to thank the members of the committee for their invitation and the opportunity to update everyone on the department's efforts to restore safe fish passage at the Big Bar landslide site on the Fraser River and our ongoing work to protect and restore the health of wild Pacific salmon stocks.
Since we became aware of it, the Big Bar landslide has been an urgent priority for DFO at both the national and regional levels. Late last June, we became aware of a massive rock slide in a remote section of the Fraser River. This slide has posed and continues to pose unprecedented challenges to the ecosystem and to those who rely on it.
During a year when we saw historically low returns of sockeye salmon and at a time when many Fraser chinook stocks and steelhead were already a grave concern, it made a bad situation worse. The slide blocked the passage of many of these returning stocks, increasing the risk to conservation of these key species. It severely constrained the access for those first nations who rely on these fish for their food, social and ceremonial needs, as well as causing broader societal and economic hardships for indigenous people, recreational and commercial harvesters and the general public.
The response to the Big Bar slide was in many ways remarkable.
Within days of learning of the slide, indigenous leaders and staff from DFO, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Province of British Columbia met to establish a unified incident command post to oversee the recovery work. This collaboration created close, sustainable and dynamic working relationships within the governments of Canada, British Columbia and the many affected first nations. There was also sustained involvement with and outreach to the wider community of involved stakeholders to keep them informed and to seek input.
The response over the summer directly involved several hundred people and many more indirectly. Experts were engaged in project management, engineering, fish habitat and enhancement, science and biology.
While DFO took the federal lead to respond to the rock slide, as the summer work ended and we transitioned to a project to be managed, we realized that we needed expert help and advice about how to respond to the massive challenges ahead.
Supported by our colleagues at Public Services and Procurement Canada, we issued a request for information on November 27, 2019, which received a high level of interest and input from qualified and experienced companies and individuals. Public Services and Procurement Canada then initiated an expedited competitive bidding process on December 12.
On December 31, 2019, Peter Kiewit Sons ULC was awarded a $17.6-million contract to undertake extensive remediation efforts at the site throughout the winter months. This work began in early January 2020.
On January 17, and travelled to the Big Bar landslide to see first-hand the ongoing work to address the slide and to meet with the High Bar and Stswecem'c Xgat'tem first nations and the Fraser Salmon Management Council. The minister affirmed to them and has since reaffirmed that the slide remains top of mind for the Government of Canada and an ongoing urgent priority for the department.
Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the site with colleagues from DFO and PSPC to see the work in progress and to meet with the two first nation groups who live in close proximity to the slide.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, I am going to go through the major contract winter work that is under way 24-7 to achieve as much rock removal as possible in this short time window, despite adverse wind, weather and locational logistics. I'm also going to cover two technical teams of experts assembled from government stakeholder groups, non-profit organizations and academia, who are helping to shape the comprehensive contingency and remediation plans for alternate fish passage and conservation-based enhancement if the winter work cannot achieve full fish passage by the spring freshet, which is expected within weeks.
Because of the time constraints that I have and because I could probably talk about this for an hour, my plan is to quickly run you through the presentation and then, as questions come up, come back to those points of interest to you. If I'm going too quickly, please consider the questions and we can come back to any of this.
I'll direct your attention to the first picture in front of you. This is the current state of the slide, and I'll explain a bit more about it.
First, for those of you who aren't familiar with the situation, the picture on the left side is from the summer. In an effort to show you what the site looked like before and after the slide, the red dotted line indicates the area where the landslide occurred. The submerged debris is causing conditions at higher flow rates that are preventing natural fish passage.
This is a very busy slide, but it speaks to three major time frames: the summer period, when an incident command post was set up; the fall, when the contract was awarded to Peter Kiewit; and the winter key points, when equipment was mobilized to the site and the groundbreaking on January 14. There's a lot of detail in there, but we can come back to it as you ask questions about what's been going on.
This essentially shows a bird’s-eye view of the site again. It's at very low water conditions, so it's in the winter. We can see a lot of the rocks. I want to point out a couple of key features, because crews are making steady progress.
If you look at number one, the Razorback, a road has been built to the site. It's incredibly remote. One of the major difficulties was getting equipment access, so a road was cut through an area called the Razorback, and you can see it there as number two. It's in place now.
You can see, in number four, the in-channel access and debris, showing the rockfall and where the obstruction occurs. This is a highly unstable location. There's been a need to install rockfall protection mesh. This is a major and significant job, and takes considerable time.
If you look at number five, the East Toe, this area on the river is currently being blasted to create more width for the water.
Finally, I'd like to point out the high line, for those of you who are into daring deeds. Because of the high winds and difficulty getting into the area, the company has installed a wire to transport equipment and people across. It's pretty exciting.
This is just to give you a sense of where we are now. The water is very low. Some blasting has been done—and here's a nice picture of it—and the result of that is the East Toe being clipped off. Since then, there's been another blast. Those three major boulders are in there, as well. I think the last one has been blasted apart. The idea is to remove rock to improve flow conditions to allow for natural fish passage.
Next we have a team of experts doing hydrological analyses of the area. This is a picture of a model that essentially demonstrates that even if Kiewit is able to do everything we've asked of them, under the current situation we don't believe that fish will be able to pass. This shows what happens when the water flows up high. You're going to have impeded fish passage.
The last thing I want to talk to you about very quickly is our contingency plan.
We are exploring a number of ideas to put into place. One is to create a natural-like fish passageway. We're looking at a fish pump system. Then we will be undertaking enhancement and continuous monitoring to evaluate the situation. Of course there are risks and uncertainties that we can talk about, but I'll leave it at that for now.