Troubled waters at Swimfest

Troubled waters at Swimfest

Algae bloom believed responsible for odour that led to cancellation of event on Gorge Waterway

An algae bloom, not a sewage spill, likely led to the cancellation of a swimming event in the Gorge Waterway Sunday.

“We are fairly certain that it is not a sewage spill,” said Jeff Miller, director of engineering and public works, with the Township of Esquimalt.

The current available evidence points towards an algae bloom, said Miller, adding that Esquimalt crews continue to work with officials from the Vancouver Island Health Authority in testing the safety and quality of the affected area west of the Tilicum Road Bridge.

The latest test results were not available by press time, but a small stretch of beach on the Esquimalt side of the Gorge Waterway remained closed to swimmers Monday morning. Miller said it will remain closed to swimmers until further notice.

He made these comments Monday, one day after organizers of the Gorge Swim Fest had cancelled the event after news of sewage or some other noxious substance polluting Gorge Creek west of Tilicum Road Bridge started to circulate Saturday.

Organizers had scheduled the event for Sunday in Banfield Park in Vic West from noon to 4 p.m.

“We are erring on the side of caution,” said Jack Meredith, president of the Gorge Swim Fest Society Sunday morning in explaining the decision to cancel the event designed to celebrate the cleanliness of the Gorge Waterway.

Holding the event without knowing all of the facts would undermine the message that the society was trying to send, he said Sunday morning.

“The last thing that we want to have is for anybody to have an health issue,” he said.

Plans for the sixth annual swimming event also included music and food. Organizers spent Sunday morning getting in touch with everybody to inform them of the cancellation. By cancelling the music and food portion of the event, organizers wanted to ensure that nobody would believe that it might be save to swim after all. Signs announcing the cancellation also went up around prominent locations in the area.

Yet hundreds undeterred by the cancellation nonetheless came to the park to show their sympathy for the organizers and support for the waterway.

“We just received tremendous support from the community,” said Meredith.

Meredith said the decision to cancel the swim has caused a lot sadness in the community, as many were looking forward to the swim.

“We were expecting close to 1,000 to celebrate the cleanliness of the Gorge Waterway,” he said.

RELATED: Vic West resident finds Gorge Waterway a calming influence.

Meredith said the financial costs of the cancellation are unknown, but that is not a top priority right now. “What we are just worrying about is health and safety,” said Meredith.

Community leaders lamented the cancellation, but praised organizers.

“This is very sad and unfortunate, but caution must be the order of the day,” said Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association Sunday.

Sunday surely marked a day of extreme for organizers. When Meredith spoke with the Saanich News Sunday morning, he spoke of a “sad day,” adding that the events of Saturday confirmed the ongoing need to raise additional awareness. “This past day (Saturday) has proven that we still have to get the message out,” he said.

The public’s reaction at the end of day suggests people are listening.

With files from Kendra Wong