British Columbia

Gorge Swim Fest cancelled after sewage discovered in Esquimalt creek

Officials aren't yet sure if the sewage was dumped or spilled into a creek that flows into the waterway.

The popular swimming area tested safe for swimming for months before the incident

The Gorge Swim Fest was cancelled in July of 2017 when the contamination was first caught after three months of testing. (Rob Wickson)

Officials are working to contain and identify the source of a possible sewage spill or dump in a popular Victoria area waterway.

The incident has lead to the cancellation of the Gorge Swim Fest scheduled for Sunday.

The sewage was found in a creek that flows into the waterway in Esquimalt but much of the Gorge is in Victoria, including Banfield Park dock, where the Gorge Swim Fest was scheduled to take place.

Officials have not determined if sewage presence was an accident or deliberate.

A look at the creek where crews have placed a number of booms to try to contain sewage. The source of the problem is unknown according to officials. (John Roe)

Not evidence of system failure

Esquimalt public works staff were called to a creek in the Kinsman Park area along the Gorge around 1 p.m. Saturday and confirmed the presence of a sewage-like odour but saw no evidence of raw sewage.

"There was no evidence of toilet paper and other things you'd associate with [raw sewage]," said Jeff Miller, director of public works for the township of Esquimalt.

Miller said staff deployed a single boom at the mouth of the unnamed creek and returned around 9:30 p.m. to deploy more booms and investigate if the sewage was coming from a leak in a pipe.

So far, said Miller, there's no evidence the presence of sewage is connected to any failure in the township's sewage system.

"We're just working our way back through our system to ensure that it isn't," he said Sunday morning.

An old favourite

Disappointed swimmers were looking forward to diving in at Banfield Park for the sixth annual Gorge Swim Fest but the event was cancelled last night due to the sewage presence.

"It's really been going on for over 100 years. Back in the early 1900s … people would come down to the Gorge and swim here because it's the cleanest and the warmest and the closest water to Victoria," said Jack Meredith said.

According to Meredith, the Gorge fell into disrepair for a number of decades until it was cleaned up in the 1990s, which inspired locals in 2000 to hold a version of the festival that celebrated the successful cleanup. 

"We just revived it to raise awareness to people that the Gorge is clean and a beautiful place to hang out in the summertime,"  he told Khalil Akhtar, guest host of CBC's North by Northwest before the spill took place.

He said part of the goal of the Swim Fest is to combat the perception that the Gorge is an unsafe place to swim.

"They say 'don't swim down there, you're going to get sick or you're going to get hives, you're gonna get itchy,  you're going to get something horrible.' That's what we want to dispel," he said.

It used to be one of B.C.'s favourite summer resorts."

Results from the last three tests run by the Capital Regional District's water monitoring program identified no water quality issues.

The Gorge is a multi-jurisdictional waterway overseen by the province, the city of Victoria and township of Esquimalt.

Miller said officials are working with the Vancouver Island health authority to determine next steps.