Section of Creek Daylighted After 50 Years
Thanks to good design, committed effort and cooperation, and a bit of luck, a new 150m section of Byrne Creek in the Edmonds community has been transformed from a pipe in the ground to a beautiful and lush creek. This project shows that new development can provide an opportunity to bring nature back into urban areas of the city, helping to regenerate ecosystems and healthy communities. Although planting trees and creating eco-friendly water features are becoming commonplace, creek daylighting, which involves opening up and restoring a formerly buried portion of a creek, can be more challenging due to costs and land area required. But when the opportunity is right, a restored creek can revitalize a neighbourhood for both wildlife and people.
The site, located near the corner of Stride Avenue and 17th Street, formerly six single-family lots, was to be redeveloped for multi-family housing, in line with the City’s Official Community Plan. An upper portion of Byrne Creek used to flow through the site but was piped in the 1960s, before the City’s Open Watercourse Policy came into effect. Byrne Creek itself is a salmon-bearing creek that has been the focus of renewal since the 1980s (see Read More below).
Beginning in 2010 the City began investigating the idea of opening up the stream again, as part of a plan of development. It seemed like a good fit for restoration: the new channel could directly connect with the open section of the creek; the site was fairly large; the adjacent road was to be closed to vehicles as part of the City’s Urban Trail network, which would allow the public to enjoy the creek as well. And Byrne Creek itself had already benefitted from a lot of effort invested by Streamkeepers, DFO, the City and others (see Read More below).
When an interested developer, Ledingham McAllister, came forward, the City worked with them to negotiate the stream daylighting as a condition for approval to develop the site. Instead of townhouses, a 3½ storey apartment building design allowed more land area for the new stream, without a loss of development potential.
After a lot of design work by the developer’s team of engineers, architects and biologists, with input and vetting by the City, construction of the new channel began in the summer of 2013 and was completed over about two months. (See Read More for more details.)
The urban trail alongside the original Byrne Creek channel emerges from the forest and where there used to be just an old cement pipe emerging from the ground, now you can stand on the stream crossing and look upstream at the new channel. It’s roughly an “L” shape, hugging the outside edge of the site, approximately where the pipe was buried. From this vantage point the creek appears as a slice of calm water reflecting the sky, with a few cattails in the shallows and bordered by fast-growing willows, salmonberry shrubs, alder and cedar trees. The new townhomes across the street and the apartment building on the site frame the view. Birds including Chickadees, Juncos and Spotted Towees can be heard as they forage among the shrubs. Fish may one day use the channel too, once some barriers downstream are fixed. The story of the creek daylighting is featured prominently in Ledingham McAllister’s marketing material for the development, now known as “Storybrook”.
It’s not a scene that most people think of when talking about new development and increasing density.
Although not all sites can accommodate a new stream, the idea of bringing nature back with new development is not a new one in Burnaby. As new areas are developed, we can expect to see more ‘green’ features like native plants, street trees, raingardens, and, in the right place, new and restored habitats like streams and wetlands.
- The Design and Construction
The channel design had to consider many factors. With the pipe buried about 3 metres deep, the stream banks needed to be quite steep, so it wouldn’t take up too much area of the site. A sanitary sewer had to be re-routed to avoid having it cross over the stream. Being so close to an apartment building, the design had to ensure that flooding of the adjacent land didn’t occur. The stream also needed to have ecologically friendly features so that it could support insects, fish and wildlife, like suitable cobble and gravel, areas for the water to spread out and pool, and a variety of vegetation to create shade, food and shelter. At the same time, the channel also had to be resistant to erosion. A crossing for pedestrians was needed, for the Urban Trail that winds along Byrne Creek, past the site. Legal agreements had to be drawn up, for access to the land by the City, and responsibility for monitoring and maintenance.
After a lot of work to address all these issues, the channel was constructed in the summer of 2013, and planting was carried out shortly afterward, in the Fall. The new channel includes natural rock of a variety of sizes below the high-water-level, a small wider area to act as a floodplain wetland, and angular rock laid on the banks to a 100-year-flood level to protect from erosion. Live willow stakes were planted among the rock to soften the effect and create shade, and native shrubs and trees were planted all along the slopes. Vegetation was chosen to be fast-growing and hardy and was densely planted, to help keep weeds out and to be low-maintenance. A box-culvert with the bottom embedded into natural soil and rock was used for the pedestrian trail crossing, which allows enough capacity to carry high flows and is fish-friendly, but less expensive than a bridge. A stormwater pond with native vegetation was also created to allow runoff from the site to slowly filter and percolate its way into the stream.
There were a few surprises at first. The creek was expected have very low flow or to go dry in summer but it instead it holds water year-round, likely fed by groundwater, meaning water levels were higher than initially calculated. This creates great habitat but there was a bit of concern when water backed up during the first big winter storms. Luckily the problem was solved after a blockage of garbage and other debris farther downstream was removed. Although the stream still holds water in summer, there is enough drainage in winter so that flooding doesn’t occur. The next summer, a beaver showed up and began eating the newly planted vegetation. Although exciting to see a native mammal take to this newly created habitat, in this case there was not enough vegetation for it to eat (without stripping the newly planted area bare), and a dam could cause flooding, so it was relocated to a more suitable and remote habitat. In a ‘managed’ landscape like this, a balance is needed between allowing natural processes to take place (like flooding and beavers) and mitigating risk.
Despite a few surprises, overall, the design worked, the vegetation took off, and today it is a lush corridor of gently flowing water bordered by native trees and shrubs. Dragonflies and many different species of birds can be seen and heard. Fish may one day use the channel too, once some barriers downstream are fixed. The developer and City staff worked together cooperatively and the developer, Ledingham McAllister, was recognized with an Environment Award from the City for the project in 2014.
- Byrne Creek – A Brief History of Urbanization and Regeneration
Byrne Creek is located in southeast Burnaby. Water from the Royal Oak and Edmonds neighbourhoods collects in the main channel and tributaries, flowing down through ravines in the south slopes into the flats in the Big Bend area, and discharging into the Fraser River in the Fraser Foreshore Park. Most of Byrne Creek has been kept open, thanks to the City of Burnaby’s Open Watercourse Policy, but some upper sections were enclosed in pipes before this policy came into effect.
Byrne Creek, like most urban creeks, has suffered from damage over the years throughout its length, including erosion, pollution, previous channelization (digging out the channel and straightening it to drain water faster), and loss of stream-side vegetation.
Efforts to rehabilitate the creek began in the 1980s. The City of Burnaby undertook a major restoration of the lower section of Byrne Creek, relocating it from what was basically a polluted roadside ditch, into a new, wider and more natural channel bordered by native vegetation. Community groups began working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to re-introduce salmon to the stream. There was a set-back when a toxic spill from an undetermined source killed off fish in 1998 (one of several spills to occur later), yet this also prompted citizen volunteers and the City to undertake watershed education, water quality monitoring and clean-up efforts, and new spawning habitat was created. Today the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers are very active stewards of the creek, and have received several Environment Awards from the City. They regularly remove invasive plants from next to the creek, clean up garbage and release and monitor salmon. The City is also working to reduce illegal connections into the storm sewers and creeks, and improving practices for stormwater management, such as the new Town Centre Street Standards which include rain-gardens to filter and clean runoff before it enters creeks like Byrne Creek.
Keenly watched by the Streamkeepers, City staff and occasional curious passers-by, a small population of salmon returns to spawn in the creek each year.