More than 300 fish were found dead on Friday in Sidney’s Reay Creek after a contaminant entered the creek through a nearby storm drain.
The town of Sidney asked Peninsula Streams Society to investigate after a five-year-old boy spotted the dead fish in the creek on Friday afternoon and alerted his parents.
Their two-day investigation recovered a total of 318 cutthroat trout, three coho, 13 sculpins and 11 sticklebacks dead in the creek.
“It was pretty well every fish was dead,” said Ian Bruce, executive director of Peninsula Streams Society.
Bruce added a persistent bleach smell and a sample collected from a nearby storm drain are leading him to believe household bleach is what caused the deaths.
“Household bleach is a fairly easy one to detect with your nose and the way the fish died, it would be consistent with bleach,” he said.
Regardless of whether it was bleach, the society has determined the contaminant that killed them entered through the storm drain based on the location of the dead fish. Over the past 20 years, Bruce says this is probably the seventh or eighth time he’s come to a fish kill in Reay Creek.
“It’s an urban creek with an industrial area upstream, so these things do happen,” he said.
Residents of the area who have been working to restore the area from industrial damage for about 45 years and say the discovery is tragic.
“It’s devastating to the neighbourhood because we’ve all worked so hard to bring this creek up to a level and it kills me to see these fish die,” said Bill Collins, a local resident who has been a part of the restoration efforts for many years.
The deaths also resonate with the Sidney Anglers Association, a group of stream keepers who started the restoration of the creek in the late 70s and created the original dam that now provides habitat for cutthroat trout and coho salmon.
“There have been seven complete fish kills, eight now with this time today of cutthroat trout and coho salmon,” said Sidney Anglers Association president Grant MacPherson.
“We’ve been very successful over the years with the school program of putting fish back in here. The wild cutthroat have been thriving in here,” he added.
At one point, the creek used to be contaminated with many heavy metals like cadmium and chromium but was eventually cleaned up.
“The residents got together led by the Peninsula Streams [Society] and the Sidney Anglers, and the Town of Sidney and in fact, Transport Canada came in,” said Collins. “With the help of everybody and the airport authority, they spent the money and spent the time to put this creek back to where it should be as the most beautiful natural asset that Sidney has.”
Efforts have been made to help prevent issues like these from happening, including running water through a bio-sulphate bag that attenuates chlorine in water when they clean the fire hydrants.
Bruce says that while the damage is significant, the bleach won’t hang around in the environment for long and fish will bounce back.
“Bleach is not persistent in the environment, it breaks down into component parts,” said Bruce. “The chlorine gets attenuated by organic parts and it dissipates fairly quickly. So, there shouldn’t be any ongoing effects of accumulation.”
Despite this, MacPherson still says the damage will be felt for about three to five years.
Both MacPherson and Bruce say going forward, residents should be more aware of runoff from their homes and if they’re using chemicals, how to dispose of them properly.
“People need to be more cognizant about any caustic chemicals that could come into contact with the environment,” said Bruce. “They might not even know their perimeter drains are tied directly to the creek.”
Bruce says when it comes to the disposal of products, the Capital Reginal District has guides for people to prevent spills in the future. He also says to make sure you read the instructions on the chemicals to know if they’re harmful or not.