British Columbia

Kamloops fined for spilling 4,100 cubic metres of sewage into river

The city of Kamloops is coming clean about a series of mistakes that led to untreated sewage being released into the South Thompson River.

The city of Kamloops has been hit with a fine for accidentally flushing untreated sewage into river

The City of Kamloops has been fined for an accidental sewage spill into the Thompson River. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

The city of Kamloops is coming clean about a series of mistakes that led to untreated sewage being released into the South Thompson River.

Eight months ago, 4,100 cubic metres -- or the capacity of two Olympic size swimming pools -- of sewage spilled from a sewer lift station into nearby ditches and creeks. That spill in the Dallas area led the province's Community Environmental Justice Forum to order the city of Kamloops spend $20,000 to do rehabilitation work on the Tranquille River. 

It must also pay $8,000 to upgrade alarm systems at all sewer locations to prevent a similar accident from happening undetected.

Jen Fretz, public works director with the City of Kamloops, said residents weren't notified of the incident at the time because the city thought other agencies were going to let people know.

"When we informed the provincial emergency program, the Ministry of Environment, we mistakenly thought that that reporting would then trigger a reporting to other agencies such as Interior Health and the Kamloops Indian Band," Fretz told Daybreak Kamloops.

"But unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We didn't even realize that until literally a month ago, when other parties were contacted about this Community Environmental Justice Forum."

Mistake after mistake

Fretz said the spill happened because a staff person handling the irrigation system at the lift station turned on the sanitary sewer valve instead of an irrigation valve. Then several staff members did not follow the necessary protocol, so the city did not become aware of the incident until 13 days later.

And then, during the clean-up process, another mistake was made and a small amount of untreated sewage went back into the river through a storm drain.

Asked why the city didn't think to inform the public, particularly when local media wasn't reporting on the incident, Fretz said there are "certain parameters around which agencies in charge of public health and the environment wouldn't trigger a public notification."

"There are operational things that happen day in and day out that some people think, 'Well, everybody needs to know that,' and in some cases, it's just an operational concern," she said.

Fretz says the workers responsible were held accountable, though she cannot disclose information due to confidentiality concerns.

To hear the full interview with Jen Fretz, listen to the audio labelled: Kamloops sewage spill 

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