A sheen of oil found on Colquitz River this week likely leaked from underground high-voltage power cables, says B.C. Hydro.
There is a “high likelihood” the substance is mineral oil used as insulation around the cables, B.C. Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynyk said on Friday, rather than home heating oil or some other contaminant.
Mineral oil is petroleum based, but Olynyk said it has extremely low toxicity and isn’t harmful to fish or other wildlife. The volume that escaped was extremely low, he said, a couple of litres per day.
“We’re talking a few days, dripping once every two or three seconds. It does add up, but its a very small amount,” he said.
B.C. Hydro crews took over responsibility for cleanup from Saanich public works on Friday and planned to conduct repairs, monitor the creek over the weekend, and see if any soil remediation also needs to take place. “Saanich has done a fantastic job with containment,” Olynyk said.
Saanich public works crew found a sheen on the water around noon Wednesday linked to, at the time, an unknown liquid leaking from the roadside bank near Interurban Road and Columbine Way. In what has become an all-to-often sight on the Colquitz, absorbent booms straddled the river and sawdust lined the river bank.
Mike Ippen, Saanich’s director of public works said crews are checking the booms daily to ensure the spill is fully contained, and to monitor whether more material is getting into the watershed.
“Hopefully the weather’s going to co-operate for a bit so we don’t get high velocities and flows down there,” he said.
Saanich is especially sensitive about spills into the Colquitz and has stepped up monitoring in the wake of several high-profile disasters over the past 12 months.
On Feb. 23 of this year, an estimated 630 litres of heating oil spilled into the Colquitz. Nearly a year ago, on Nov. 25, 2011, more than 1,000 litres leaked into the river from a home oil tank.
Ippen says the oil spills of last winter have improved the public works department’s effectiveness in responding to reports of spills on the Colquitz.
“Mostly what we’ve done on that watershed is we hunted down some of the culverts that got grown over and cleared (vegetation) away. When we have a report of material in the Colquitz or any of the tributaries we can chase it down faster now, and help isolate where it’s coming from,” Ippen said.
Chris Bos, who volunteers as a steward for the Colquitz, says he gives major kudos to Saanich crews for finding the source when they did.
“We think it’s been going on for a while. There’s been an annoying amount of little bits of (material in the water) for a while now,” he said. “The fact that it could be getting worse, finding it now is good.”
As of last week, only 70 coho have swam up the Colquitz, through the fish fence Bos and his fellow stream stewards use to monitor returning salmon during spawning season. Based on significantly higher numbers coming from Goldstream and Craigflower fish counts, there should be more, Bos said.
“I’m a little suspicious what’s going on. It may be because we’ve got a couple seals in the lower river. There’s family of otters, too. But if there’s this oil event, that could also be the reason why (the number of coho is low),” he said.
“We are proud of Colquitz and its fishery, but we’ve had bad experiences with spills. It looks like our crew got onto this one quickly,” noted Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard last Thursday. “It’s nothing like we’ve seen from oil tanks, this is a sheen but its better to err on the side of overkill.”
Discussion on home heating oil
A town-hall style meeting featuring experts who can speak to the environmental impacts of home heating oil spills will take place tonight (Nov. 14) at the University of Victoria.
The event, put on by the Gorge Tillicum Community Association and the Environmental Law Centre at UVic, will also focus on the legal ramifications of such spills.
The meeting happens from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 159 of the Fraser Building at UVic.
–with files from Kyle Slavin