Big Bar landslide response

In June 2019, we received reports of a landslide in a remote, rugged canyon along the Fraser River north of Lillooet, BC, on the traditional territory of the Secwepemc Nation. Huge pieces of rock and significant debris had sheared off a 125-metre cliff and crashed in to the river, narrowing the river and creating a 5 metre high waterfall. Based on the magnitude of the obstruction, salmon migrating upstream were impeded from proceeding beyond the landslide. Within 5 days of the initial report, a government-to-government-to-government (3G) Unified Command was established in Lillooet to respond to this emergency. It included experts and specialists from the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia and First Nations.

In September 2019, based on the collaborative efforts of the 3 levels of government (Federal, Provincial and First Nations), combined with the efforts and support of other agencies, stakeholder groups, and geotechnical and hydrological experts, thousands of salmon were able to migrate past the landslide site. This movement was achieved through the trapping and transport of fish, as well as the partial re-establishment of a natural fish passage due to rock manipulation and naturally lower water levels. Throughout the operation the safety of personnel and the public remained a top priority.

The 3G Incident Command Post established to oversee and support the field work and the associated Unified Command Structure were innovative in their collaborative approach and essential to the initial phase of the response. This collaborative approach continues in the new project structure that was established in October 2019 with the goal of effectively assisting salmon migration in 2020 and beyond.

The project team is guided by an ongoing collaboration between First Nations, Federal, and Provincial governments to ensure continuity of direction and retain the knowledge gained during the emergency phase, while demonstrating our ongoing commitment to transparency and robust 3G coordination. The current focus of the team is on the strategic evaluation and planning for the next phase of field work as well as logistics, safety and oversight. Working with the existing dedicated project leads environmental and engineering specialists, we continue to pursue the goal of restoring sustainable fish passage for future salmon returns.

On December 31, 2019, following a competitive process, Peter Kiewit Sons ULC, was awarded a contract to undertake extensive winter work at the landslide site. The remediation project will occur on the traditional territories of the Secwepemc Nation, specifically High Bar First Nation and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. The contract includes an Indigenous Benefits Plan (IBP) to provide socio-economic benefits to these two First Nations such as training, employment and sub-contracting for these communities.

The remediation work undertaken by Peter Kiewit Sons ULC will include breaking up and removing rock at the site of the landslide to improve passage for salmon and steelhead stocks during the migration season. This work began in early January and and will continue through to the end of March 2020.

In addition, two technical working groups of experts from governments, stakeholders, non-profit organizations, and academia, that will help inform comprehensive contingency and remediation plans for alternate fish passage methods and conservation-based enhancement. Additional options for safe fish passage are being developed in case the height or water velocity presents a barrier to certain salmon populations during the early part of the 2020 migration season.

Information updates

Related links