Twelve-year-old Luka Kovacic leads his mother, Suzana, as they participate in the annual Stoney Creek salmon count in fall 2021. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Another Stoney Creek contamination has residents wondering: how does this keep happening?

The City of Coquitlam has taken action against the sources of the Stoney Creek contamination, and is taking steps to mitigate future incidents.

By Dustin Godfrey | February 4, 2022 |5:00 am

Burnaby streamkeepers are “in shock and without words,” after yet another major Stoney Creek contamination.

The City of Coquitlam has issued a stop-work order and $500 fines after a pair of developments were tied to the spills that polluted the creek.

And Coquitlam is working with the City of Burnaby to implement a live water quality monitoring system in Stoney Creek.

But members of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee are wondering how this keeps on happening.

The Kovacic family, whose house is just west of the Burnaby-Coquitlam border, along Stoney Creek, has been pursuing the issue of Stoney Creek contaminations for years.

It started with sewage overflowing during heavy rainfall events from the sanitary system, onto the roads and into the stormwater drainage, which flows directly into Stoney Creek. And the family has found oily substances flowing into the creek from a culvert fed by the stormwater system.

But last summer, a contamination left hundreds of fish dead in the creek. The exact source of the contaminant remains a mystery, with the City of Coquitlam turning up no definite answers.

But streamkeepers believed the contaminant was cement, and it left the water with a high basicity—samples of the water at the time reached a pH level of as high as 10.8.

A new Stoney Creek contamination

SCEC members are worried about similar implications from this past week of contaminations as well.

George Kovacic said he received a couple of dozen emails from residents in the neighbourhood documenting the spill. He said it was “amazing” how the network around Stoney Creek had grown.

Suzana Kovacic and their son, Luka, searched for potential sources of the contaminant and found a cement-like substance splattered around a stormwater drain.

“The joy is gone. … And it’s frustrating. You see it in him, and sometimes he’s like, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go see.’ It’s so disappointing.”

Photo: Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon

The two took samples of the substance to test—they weren’t able to get samples straight from the stream, having not seen the creek when it was contaminated.

She said the home pH testing kits capped out at eight, so they went back to a lab at SFU, where Suzana works as a researcher, and found a pH level of about 11.

Over the course of about a week, the City of Coquitlam said it received reports of cloudy water in Stoney and Harmony creeks on four occasions from seven separate residents.

“The city responded quickly and deployed staff immediately after receiving each spill report to investigate and collect evidence,” said Caresse Selk, environment manager at the city.

Coquitlam traces the sources

The city was able to determine two sources for the contaminants.

In Harmony Creek, which feeds into Stoney Creek, staff traced the source of a spill to a development where sewer upgrades were being done. Trench water from that work was being pumped into a manhole that fed into Harmony Creek, Selk said.

It’s not clear if this is the same location found by Suzana and Luka Kovacic.

In response, the city issued a stop-work order until the contractor shows that it can deal with the trench water properly. Selk added that the city is holding meetings with the contractor to “ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Stoney Creek was contaminated several times in the last week with silty substances that left the water looking almost milky. (Submitted)
Stoney Creek was contaminated several times in the last week with silty substances that left the water looking almost milky. (Submitted)

The second source came from a development site with a water treatment system that was putting out turbid water. The city ordered the discharge system be shut down until it could be serviced.

Selk said a visit to the location on Wednesday found that the system had been serviced, and it was putting out only clear water.

What’s the lasting impact?

The actual impact of these spills aren’t clear. When a substance was found in the creek over the summer, there were fish in the stream. But the fall salmon run ended some time ago, and the adult fish have died, while their offspring remain unhatched in the creek.

The summer’s contamination event is also believed to have left not only hundreds of fish dead but the small organisms newly hatched salmon feed on as well.

That leaves big question marks over how the young salmon that make it through this winter—which has also seen numerous sewage contaminations and major rain storms that have likely destroyed many salmon eggs—will fare after they hatch in the spring.

Suzana said the events have been dismaying to Luka, who has spent years exploring Stoney Creek and is now a member of SCEC.

“Luka loves the creek, and he wants to go for a walk after school. He hates being indoors all day, and this is his time to relax, go out and walk along the creek and see what’s new. But lately, it’s been, ‘Let’s see what’s new,’” she said, imbuing the last few words with a tone of dread.

“The joy is gone. … And it’s frustrating. You see it in him, and sometimes he’s like, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go see.’ It’s so disappointing.”

Moving forward, Coquitlam said the water quality monitoring unit, supplied by Flowlink, is expected to be completed by the end of this week.

“This unit will provide both Burnaby and Coquitlam with real-time water quality data for the creek including pH and turbidity and will help us in our efforts in quickly identifying the type and source of spills,” Selk said.

“In addition, new signage is being installed where Stoney Creek crosses North Road which includes contact information for both Burnaby and Coquitlam for reporting spills.”

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Dustin Godfrey

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