Leaking oil tank threatens spawning Colquitz coho

Oil leaked into Swan Creek shows up at Colquitz fish fence

The Colquitz River suffered yet another home heating oil spill this week.

Dorothy Chambers recognized the fuel on the water when she arrived to count the day’s fish at the Colquitz fish fence behind Tillicum shopping centre at 7:30 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 3).

At this time of year, the Colquitz is home to more than a 1,000 coho salmon on the spawning run, she said. It’s been a busy week for Chambers, as the hospital nurse makes daily visits to the fish fence and also called the Coast Guard on Tuesday to report a sunken boat in the Gorge.

“There was a strong smell of fuel oil present,” Chambers said.

Saanich director of engineering Harley Machielse said crews responded around 8:30 a.m. and sourced the oil product to Swan Creek near Carey Road. It came from a house on O’Connell Place, about 500 metres away.

“We deployed containment booms to isolate it and traced it to a residential property,” Machielse said. “We installed a containment siphon at the property line and disconnected the drainage connection. Oil had been going into stormwater drain but is not leaving the property any more.”

The amount of fuel spilled is not yet known, but the standard-sized tank had been filled in September and is now empty.

Crews monitored the oil pads and booms throughout the weekend and changed out pads that filled with oil.

It’s a setback for Swan Creek, which, after much work over the past decade, is home to spawning salmon and is a year-round salmonid habitat.

“When I visited there the area of the spill [it] had a pretty overwhelming smell of hydrocarbons,” Chambers said.

It’s not the first time a leaking oil tank has threatened the Colquitz River during spawning season or local watersheds.

Though Machielse didn’t know what size the tank is he said it is above ground and the leak was visible. Most outdoor units hold upwards of 1,100 litres.

“We’ve spoken to the homeowner and are working with an insurance [agency] for clean up and recovery of the costs,” Machielse said.

About three three to six residential oil leaks are reported in Saanich each year, Machielse said. There are likely some unreported leaks as not all are collected at the nearest storm drain.

Fall is a perfect storm as homeowners fill their tanks in preparation for the winter. At the same time the heavy seasonal rains which assist the spawning salmon in rivers also flush the leaks into the nearest watershed.

“We want to remind homeowners to inspect their tank when it’s getting filled for winter,” Machiesle said.

It’s also a good time to take advantage of the province’s and Saanich’s combined $2,000 incentive to switch from oil to a heat pump, he noted.


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