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‘This was carelessness’: Spills in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam creeks kill hundreds of fish

Salmon killed in the spills are a "keystone species" that feeds predators and returns nutrients to local waterways
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Booms and absorbent pads soak up solvent spilled into Coquitlam's Booth Creek and killed hundreds of young fish over the weekend. City officials are still trying to determine the source.

Spills at creeks in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam have killed hundreds of fish and sent officials searching for sources.

They’re also a reminder of the fragility of local waterways to a moment’s inattention or neglect, says a local streamkeeper.

Saturday, Jonathan Helmus, Coquitlam’s director of utilities, confirmed city officials and the fire department responded to a culvert on Booth Creek, in an industrial area in the south part of the city, not far from the SilverCity theatre complex after reports of a strong solvent smell and scores of small fish turned belly up.

He said crews deployed booms and absorbent pads to contain the spill, then began investigating further upstream to determine its source.

The culvert, which runs beneath Myrnam Street, is next to a steel fabrication plant and just downstream from a truck yard.

Helmus said subsequent visits on Sunday and Monday have yet to find the spill’s origins. He said crews look for smells or signs of activity that might involve solvents, like rags and discarded cans or barrels. They can also check inspection chambers of suspected businesses. The culprit, if found, could then be fined.

Helmus said the spill has been reported to provincial environment officials to determine if it could be part of an ongoing problem.

The spill into Booth Creek comes just over a week after another incident in Port Coquitlam at Hyde Creek.

Helen Howes, of the Hyde Creek Watershed Society, said the spill of an unknown substance initially killed 334 Coho fry and 57 smolts.

She said there was no sheen on the water, and subsequent walks up and down the creek and along the culvert at Coast Meridien Road to the Hyde Creek Recreation Centre didn’t turn up additional dead fish.

“My guess is we’ll never find the source,” Howes told the Tri-City News, adding the spill was likely a one-time flush down a storm drain by someone who didn’t appreciate the consequences of their actions.

“This was carelessness,” she said. “Who would ever think pouring chemicals down a storm drain would be a good idea?”

Howes said a lot of time and effort by more than 50 volunteers goes into rearing young salmon to be released into local streams where they are a “keystone species” that not only fights for its own survival, but also feeds predators and eventually becomes fertilizer that replenishes nutrients in the waterways.

Losing them to human neglect is “a little disheartening,” she said.

Earlier this year, a film of diesel fuel fouled a creek that runs through Dominion Park in Port Coquitlam’s Freemont Village area and last year a murky discharge killed at least 300 young salmon in Stoney Creek, that runs from Coquitlam into Burnaby.

Coquitlam’s Helmus said it’s important for people to be vigilant around waterways and report if they see or smell anything unusual.

“We are relying on people to help us,” he said, adding the city doesn’t have the resources to patrol its streams 24/7.

Helmus said if they do encounter a spill, they can contact the Coquitlam’s 24-hour hotline at 604-927-3500 or send an email to [email protected]. It’s also helpful to include photos.