Here's why the pristine blue waters of a northern B.C. river are running neon orange
Pouring dye into Skeena River simulates potential toxic spill from CN trains
This week, a northern B.C. First Nation will turn the bright blue waters of the Skeena River a neon orange-yellow.
The idea is to simulate a potential toxic spill into the pristine river from derailed railway cars.
The Kitsumkalum First Nation is pouring a dramatically coloured dye into the waters of a river many consider the backbone of the north coast ecosystem.
"The entire CN Rail corridor is right along the Skeena," explained Mark Biagi, fish and wildlife operations manager for the Kitsumkalum Indian Band, which is also located along the tracks, about five kilometres from Terrace. "Any derailment that happens is very likely to impact the river."
The question is how and where a toxic spill would flow. So band staff will follow the simulated spill for hours with a drone. Then they'll continue to monitor its impact using GPS and sensors.
The Skeena River is home to the second-largest sockeye salmon run in B.C. Its ecosystem extends from grizzly habitat in the northwest to sea lion territory off the north coast.
"Biologically, it's a very, very important area, and we need to do whatever it is we can to protect it," said Biagi.
He says the Skeena is also complex, with islands, sloughs, and side channels all the way to the Pacific.
"It makes it very difficult to plan an emergency response. It's difficult to clean up," he said. "How do we deal with a potential spill in the river?"
Part of the answer may be in the data about the neon dye's movement, which will help the band prepare an effective emergency plan for cleaning up any future spills.
The emergency spill test is taking place as CN Rail traffic to the port of Prince Rupert continues to grow.
"Right now what we see is the trains are running long, with 200 car trains, which are a lot easier to derail," said Biagi.
"As far as what we've been informed, CN is planning on shipping more hydrocarbons, such as diesel and bunker C, the dregs of oil refining, down to the port of Prince Rupert.."
The band will be running coloured dye through the river for several weeks in July.
They want locals and people fishing the river to know that, unlike a potential spill, this coloured dye is nontoxic, biodegradable and will dissipate over time.
"It will be a dramatic change, but don't be alarmed," Biagi said.