British Columbia

Vacuum trucks suck 49,000 litres of oily water from storm sewer to save salmon

More than 49,000 litres of oily water has been sucked out of the storm sewer system near Mackay Creek in North Vancouver after an oil spill was spotted in the fish-bearing creek last Friday.

'This is kind of our baby. This is one we've put a lot of effort and time into. So, we were very disappointed'

A huge vacuum truck has sucked seven loads of oily water out of the storm drain system near Mackay Creek in North Vancouver since Friday, removing an estimated 35,000-49,000 litres of polluted water. (Joel Ballard/CBC)

More than 49,000 litres of oily water have been vacuumed out of the storm sewer system near Mackay Creek in North Vancouver after an oil spill was spotted in the fish-bearing creek last Friday.

Several environmental groups alerted city and district officials about the spill which ended up being "fairly significant," according to Richard Boase, manager of environmental sustainability with the District of North Vancouver.

Investigators have identified the source but are not making it public until the investigation is complete.

"We take this extremely seriously. We are trying to get to the bottom of the details around the spill," said Boase.

A "fair bit" of oil was released onto a road surface and ended up going down a grate, he said.

The exact amount remains unclear.

Cleanup costs will run into the tens of thousands of dollars after crews spent four days clearing contaminated water out of the storm sewer system in North Vancouver, he said.

Students were heading to Mackay Creek on Feb. 26 to see whether the oil spotted five days ago in this photograph had been cleaned up. (Fiona Wright/North Shore Wetland Partners Society)

Huge vacuum trucks that use pressurized water were used, at a cost of $2,500 per day, and the contaminated water will cost 30 to 50 cents per litre to dispose of at a facility that will treat the water to remove the oil, said Boase.

Those trucks were filled seven times and each truck holds 7,000 litres.

Investigators on scene suspect a local business stored waste oil in an improper way, he said.

District crews have been working to remove the substance since Friday to prevent it from washing into the creek system which empties into Burrard Inlet.

After the investigation, there may be an effort to recover cleanup costs if a person or business is found to be at fault.

A sheen of oil can be seen on Mackay Creek in North Vancouver on Feb. 23. (Fiona Wright/North Shore Wetland Partners Society)

Boase says it is crucial that any spills are reported as soon as possible so that crews can contain the spill.

"The spill spread through hundreds of metres of storm drain pipe that are incredibly difficult to clean," he said.

Spills like this happen at least once a year and can involve anything from a car accident to a business disposing of waste improperly, he said.

It's a blow to environmental groups that say they have spent years working to clean up the creek and make it viable for coho and trout.

In November, another spill was spotted covering the entire creek, emanating from a different source.

Mackay Creek is home to coho fingerlings and trout. (Fiona Wright/North Shore Wetland Partners Society)

"I'm really disappointed, " said Krystal Brennan of Echo Ecological, a contractor that worked to restore Mackay Creek for the past two years.

"This is kind of our baby. This is one we've put a lot of effort and time into. So, we were very disappointed."

Brennan said that the oil appeared to have spilled on pavement where it was then hosed into a storm drain, but the district's investigation has not yet been concluded.

So far, no dead fish have been found, but Brennan says she is also concerned about the sensitive invertebrates that live in the creek, which are food for salmon.

North Vancouver District bylaws require storm drain systems in industrial zones to be outfitted with oil and grit interceptor mechanisms and any infraction can end in a fine, depending on the severity, of up to $10,000.

The district can also recover cleanup costs, depending on the situation.

District of North Vancouver crews placed white booms across storm drain outfalls to try to prevent oily water from being washed into Mackay Creek, after a spill was spotted on Feb 22, 2018. (Fiona Wright/North Shore Wetland Partners Society)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the trucks had sucked up 7,000 litres of oily water. In fact, the correct figure is 49,000 litres, as the trucks were filled seven times.
    Feb 26, 2019 2:20 PM PT

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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