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Oil spill history repeats itself in Saanich, stream steward says

Bob Bridgeman has been a friend of Mount Douglas for more than a decade.

He's the go-to guy when it comes to the protection and health of the salmon spawning creek that runs through the park.

And he wasn’t shocked to hear that as much as 1,000 litres of home heating oil had leaked into the Colquitz River system.

Bridgeman has seen dozens of oil spills in Douglas Creek, he said, contending that not enough is being done to prevent it from happening again.

"Once these spills get into the creek, whether it's Douglas Creek or Colquitz, it's already too late," he said. "The oil boom technology (the municipality is using) is absolutely inefficient, so you have to ask the question: how much oil is actually being recovered? The rest is going into the environment."

According to Graham Knox, manager of the Ministry of Environment's Environmental Emergency Program, the amount recovered by booms and absorbent pads is minimal.

"We're lucky if we get 15 per cent of the hazardous material," Knox said.

Bridgeman said the only repercussions for the municipality's inadequacies are "public outrage, despair, angst and anger."

Quoted in a November 2005 ***News article after 872 litres of furnace oil leaked from Saanich firehall No. 3 into Douglas Creek, Bridgeman said: "(Saanich has) a plan so people think (the problem) is taken care of, but it doesn't work."

Six years later he says nothing has changed.

"We've expressed our feelings about how spills are being managed several times, and we haven't been able to get (Saanich) to budge, or at least buy into a different technology," he said.

The municipality's manager of public works defended Saanich, saying the oil spill response procedures were audited.

"The recommendations that came out were pretty minor, and the overall confidence level the third-party auditor had was extremely high," Mike Ippen said.

Crews are still monitoring the contamination of the water in Swan Creek and Colquitz River, Ippen said. A dozen booms and additional absorbent pads are being checked and replaced on a routine basis.

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, a home heating oil tank from a residence on Kenneth Street failed and began leaking into Swan Creek. It took until Friday, Nov. 25, before Saanich crews moved in to try and contain the spill.

"There are parts of the system upstream, between Glanford and McKenzie, where there are pockets where we think the vegetation is fairly contaminated," Ippen said on Monday. To mitigate the impacts, an environmental consultant is working with Saanich and making recommendations on how to ensure the watershed stays healthy.

Coun. Judy Brownoff says the Capital Region needs a watershed management strategy acceptable to all municipalities in order to protect natural environments in Greater Victoria.

"It's fair to say we'd be lost without these volunteer groups (like Friends of Mount Douglas). I'm hopeful that the watershed management plan, whatever that may look like, might have some more opportunities financially (to help these groups)," she said.

The region's watersheds run across municipal boundaries, which is why a strategy within the regional government would be beneficial, said Glenn Harris, senior manager of environmental protection with the CRD.

The reality is that it's going to be nearly impossible to ensure hazardous material never again enters the waterways, Brownoff said.

"I don't think we recognize where that pollution goes when a (home heating oil) tank leaks, and the kind of environmental devastation it can cause," she said. "We all watched the spill in the Gulf (of Mexico) with the big oil rig. I don't think as citizens we relate it our natural environment locally, and that's what we need to be doing."

Saanich's environmental advisory committee was expected to meet yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss the impacts of the recent spill. Chaired by Coun. Vicki Sanders, she said Monday that there is room to make improvements to proactively prevent oil spills.

"At the end of the day … (the environmental advisory committee will) have to look at the environmental impacts and come up with policy changes, and then we'll make recommendations to council on how we're going to deal with this," Sanders suspected. "We're going to have to look at changes in the bureaucratic process … because this oil spill is huge."

Bridgeman has spoken to the committee about improvements that can be made to the whole

storm-water management system.

But policy changes spurred by past spills have never been a topic of discussion at the advisory committee, Sanders said.

Bridgeman wants Saanich to make improvements – such as changing the underground piping to include control pumps that can stop contaminated flows from reaching a watershed – though he admits such plans are expensive.

"People have insurance, but what about the fish? … It could take years to build up that urban stream again," Bridgeman said. "(Saanich's current response is) a terrible indicator of how we're living on these watersheds and what our values really are."

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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