On Feb. 23, there was another emergency for the Colquitz River caused by the leaking of 630 litres of home heating fuel from a nearby residential property. This was the third significant event in Saanich since last November, and since then, another smaller one leaked from Adelaide Avenue into the Gorge Waterway.
On Saturday when I went to observe the site of the spill, there were at least 10 folks working very hard to contain the fuel and inspecting where the damages were occurring in the waterway. I stood about 50 metres downstream from the property where the leak occurred, and despite three booms and other containment efforts, I could still see signs of oil on the very fast-moving water, and I could smell the powerful odour of home heating oil.
On my ride home along the river I occasionally noticed this same odour.
All this points to the serious difficulty we are having with the problem of protecting and restoring our natural environment against the pressures of civilization.
For the most part we appear to be in a reactive phase. In other words, because of a shortage of resources, we cannot make the necessary investments to prevent these accidents from causing significant damages. Well, that simply is not good enough.
One Saanich councillor has suggested that we figure out who has oil storage tanks and then send out educational notices asking for homeowners to make themselves aware of the condition of their facilities. Most of us know what happens to those little notices sent out as part of a municipal utility bill – they’ll likely end up in the recycle box.
There is a much better way to start the process of cleaning up this mess.
Let’s begin by requiring all fuel oil storage facilities to have an inspection sticker on the outside of the building. If there is no certificate, then the supplier and homeowner would have significant liability issues if ignored. With such a system both the homeowner and the supplier will have incentives to pay attention to the condition of their equipment.
The homeowner might look to invest in an updated tank standard that would help contain any leaks caused by erosion (including the pipes connecting to and from the tank) and the supplier will become ever watchful for problems that might reflect on their own standards.
In one jurisdiction they have gone from a record of 245 reported releases from storage tanks in 1993 to fewer than 11 in the past year, and most of those were not operational failures.
The costs to the environment of these incidents are almost impossible to calculate. While we can count the cleanup costs, it is the long-term damages to our natural systems that are not counted in any insurance claim. A simple solution is to regulate the requirements for tank standards and those costs can be contained at the homeowner level where they belong.
The Gorge Tillicum Community Association will be talking about this issue with biologist Ian Bruce at our Annual General Meeting on March 29 at Pearkes Recreation Centre. Please join us in the discussion.
Rob Wickson, President