British Columbia

Vavenby, B.C., residents without tap water 1 week after diesel spill

Residents of the community of Vavenby have been ordered not to use their tap water after a transport truck slid into the North Thompson River a week ago, spilling hundreds of litres of diesel fuel.

Showers in Clearwater and free bottled water are offered to residents as 'do not use' order remains in force

Site of the spill on the North Thompson river between the communities of Avola and Vavenby. (Jake Devlin)

Drinking water for residents of the small, Thompson-region community of Vavenby remains under a "do not use" order one week after a diesel spill in the North Thompson River.

About 250 people in the community draw water from the river.

Three water samples have been taken and tested since the spill, showing no detectable signs of petroleum hydrocarbons in the water. Still, the order remains in place.

The Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) has made bottled and bulk potable water available at the Vavenby Fire Hall and residents are being asked to bring their own bottles and buckets to fill.

On the night of Jan. 16, a transport truck travelling along Highway 5 slid off the icy roadway and crashed into the river, spilling approximately 800 litres of diesel fuel.

'A small amount of diesel'

Forty kilometres downstream, by river, is the Vavenby Water System.

Operators of that system went into full monitoring mode after the accident and 24 hours later detected diesel at the water intake.

Jake Devlin, director of environmental services with the TNRD, said, "at that point our assumption was that a small amount of diesel had gotten into the system, so they immediately shut the system off."

Vavenby water reservoir where testing is done. (Jake Devlin)

Shower arrangements have also been offered to residents along with free transportation to the North Thompson Sportsplex Arena in Clearwater, about 20 minutes away.

On the Vavenby B.C. Info Board Facebook page, some residents balked at the idea of travelling by bus to Clearwater to shower.

Devlin admits only one person took the bus to the Sportsplex on Sunday.

'We do need to keep things out of the river'

"[The spill last week] has been the best handled of any water disaster that I'm aware of in Vavenby," said Lorraine Wood, a Vavenby resident since 1959. 

Wood remembers a derailment in 1982, when a CN train carrying hazardous materials also spilled into the North Thompson river. That accident shut off all water to her house for "what seemed like forever," she said.

"We're a very small population but we have a huge amount of accidents on Highway 5," Wood said. "Whether it needs better winter maintenance or trees planted along the river ... we need to keep things out of the river."

No sign of diesel but testing continues

Samples of the water are being tested daily to monitor for diesel at three different points in the river.

The tests have all been negative but the Interior Health Authority (IHA) said further testing is required before the "do not use" order can be lifted.

Dan Ferguson, Leader, Health Protection Strategic Initiatives at Interior Health Authority (LinkedIn)

Dan Ferguson, the manager of health protection with the IHA, said the major concern with this spill is that diesel was found in the snow and ice along the banks of the river near the accident site, and "unfortunately it's in an area that is very difficult to access from a cleaning perspective."

Diesel in its raw form is an irritant.

"It can be a skin and eye irritant, if there's direct contact onto the body," Ferguson said, hence the concern about showering and bathing.

With ingestion, it could cause upset stomach and, potentially, vomiting and diarrhea.

Ferguson said the "do not use" order will remain in place at least until Wednesday.

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Water sample results from Jan. 23