A catastrophic oil spill has dashed what had been a feel-good story about salmon returning to an urban waterway.
Reports say that up to 1,000 liters of home heating oil leaked out from a Kenneth Street home last Tuesday and contaminated Swan Creek and parts of the Colquitz River system.
Dorothy Chambers has spent five years working with other volunteers to try and rehabilitate Colquitz Creek. She told the News that there was a sickening smell of oil and dozens of dead fish in the creek.
“The sight of the salmon at the surface gasping for air and swimming erratically was sickening,” Chambers said.
Saanich responded to reports of the leak by installing barriers to absorb the oil at five locations.
“I can add that the property owner is cooperating fully and the drain connection has been isolated from the storm system,” Saanich’s manager of public works Mike Ippen wrote Friday afternoon in an email to Chambers and others concerned about the creek. “No additional material will enter the drainage system. We will continue to monitor the booms and pads and replace as required.”
Chambers replied that the pads weren’t working.
“Although the spill was known to be from Kenneth Street flowing into Swan creek, none of entrances into the Colquitz had any absorbent protection at all,” Chambers wrote in a email sent to Ippen. “The fish fence is saturated with reeking oil and all of today’s Coho were dead. What a sight for the families who came to watch the salmon release. Twenty-four large dead Coho in three days – Coho that are intact, in perfect shape. Mostly all large females, still carrying 3,000 to 5,000 eggs each, which will never hatch and will affect this run for years to come. It is probable that the 162 Coho we released on Tuesday are affected from the oil which was already flowing up stream where they were heading.”
The feeling of dejection was the opposite of the sense of optimism that volunteers felt earlier in the week when record numbers of salmon were being counted in the creek.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as the provincial Ministry of Environment are monitoring the situation.