Provincial government investigates Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in Saanich over water spill

Investigation focuses on permits to perform work responsible for rise in water levels, temperature

A provincial ministry is investigating whether a Saanich non-profit had the necessary permits to perform work responsible for a spill into a local salmon-bearing river already facing various strains.

The ministry of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development is investigating whether the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HCP) had the “appropriate permits” under the Water Sustainability Act to remove a beaver dam on Thursday, May 2, said a ministry spokesperson in an email to the Saanich News.

Various public and private authorities have deemed this move responsible for triggering a spill of warm, sediment-rich water into the Colquitz River from a weir part and parcel of the HCP.

Ian Bruce, executive director of the Peninsula Streams Society, has since publicly expressed the fear that the spill could lead to the failure of future salmon runs in the river already straining from a number of pressures including climate change and construction of the McKenzie Interchange.

RELATED: Spill into Saanich’s Colquitz River could kill future salmon runs

The spokesperson for the ministry said it will decide about potential fines for non-compliance following conclusion of the investigation.

Because the ministry only learned of this incident on Friday, the investigation is still in its preliminary stages, the spokesperson said, adding it is too soon to determine how long it might take and what the outcome will be.

Deborah Donahue, HCP’s general manager, said in an email to the Saanich News that centre performed what she called “regular maintenance of the weir.” That including “removing the debris to keep the waterway clear and allow the weir to do its job and the fish to make it upstream.”

She said that rain during the week before had left the level of the weir “a bit high which accounted for the volume of water” that entered the Colquitz River. In his account of the incident, Bruce said the level of the river suddenly rose four inches.

Donahue said the “hotter weather last week attributed to the temperature [rise] as the water flowed downstream.”

In his account of the incident, Bruce said the temperature rose from 10.8 degree Celsius to 18.5 degree Celsius, while the level of dissolved oxygen dropped by more than half.

The ministry spokesperson said the investigation into the incident also involves the District of Saanich, because the affected river runs through the municipality. Saanich also has a stake in the centre that sits on land leased from the District, and receives an operational grant.

Kelsie McLeod, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, said Saanich staff will be reaching out to provincial, as well as federal authorities to assist their investigations, where appropriate.

“Separately, Saanich staff will be meeting with HCP to discuss their obligations under the lease as well as meeting [provincial] and [federal] regulations,” she said.

Donahue did not respond to questions about the nature of those discussions. She also did not respond to questions about whether HCP had permission to perform the work.


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