Luka Kovacic walks along Stoney Creek near a culvert, which is believed to be the source of several contaminations—including one that killed hundreds of fish—of the salmon-bearing stream. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Stoney Creek may take over a year to recover from fish kill

The contamination of the stream is believed to have killed the invertebrates juvenile fish feed on, meaning this year's spawn will have little food

By Dustin Godfrey | August 31, 2021 |5:07 am

A recent fish kill event at Stoney Creek likely wiped out not just the fish living in the stream but the food chain that they feed on, according to a local stream keeper.

Stoney Creek Environmental Committee president John Templeton said he reached out to UBC zoology professor Chris Wood, an expert in fish physiology and toxicolgy, after the fish kill event in July, when a boy found hundreds of dead fish in the creek.

And in talking with Wood, Templeton said he learned that the acidity present in the stream would have killed not only the fish but also the benthic invertebrates living in the stream.

“Those are all the small shrimps, all the nematode worms, mayflies, damselflies, all aquatic life that the fish eat. That food chain is wiped out,” Templeton said.

In an email to Burnaby Beacon, Wood said he isn’t an expert on benthic invertebrates, but based on a “quick review” of the scientific literature, he suggested that “at a minimum, recovery will take at least a year.”

Templeton said the invertebrates are “absolutely essential” to the ecosystem of Stoney Creek.

“That’s the food chain for all the small, juvenile fish and salmon. That’s what they eat. So there’s nothing for a fish to eat,” Templeton said.

Decades of work set back

The particularly challenging part of this issue, Templeton said, is that stream keepers have been working for decades to bring fish back to Stoney Creek.

“We’ve been able to work together [with the city] to bring it back, but this latest kill is a real setback because most of our coho spawn in that upper reach of the creek. And that is not a good thing,” he said.

“We’ll probably see fish spawn in that area this fall because that’s their natural instinct. But once those fry emerge, those fry aren’t going to have anything to eat.”

That means they’ll have to move downstream to find a space that will be able to support them, Templeton said.

The flow of the creek will have eliminated the acidity in the water by now, and further downstream it eventually became diluted, leaving a section of the river with dead animals.

The overall area affected includes everything from a stormwater drain culvert, which feeds into the creek several hundred metres west of North Road, to just below Stoney Creek Place, a road that bridges over the creek just a block downstream from Broadway.

Culprits fined $500

The fish kill was originally discovered by 12-year-old Luka Kovacic late last month when he found the stream was a murky grey-white instead of the usual clear water.

Over the course of the following days, Luka and his father, George, along with the Stoney Creek Environmental Committee, found hundreds of dead fish in the creek.

The City of Coquitlam told Glacier Media at the time that officials believed a cement truck was cleaned out and the water dumped into a stormwater drain, which flowed into the creek.

“We found out what caused the fish kill. Coquitlam identified who the culprits were. They fined them $500, which, as you know, is totally inadequate,” Templeton said.

“Since that, we have managed to have a meeting with an officer from Environment and Climate Change Canada. So this gentleman has done an investigation. Part of that investigation process is still in due process. Once he has finished with that, then there will be recommendations made as to whether Environment and Climate Change can consider a prosecution against people who caused the harm to the creek,” Templeton said.

“But where it ends up, I have no idea. So I can’t really say what’s going to go down until he does what he has to do.”

Ensuring it doesn’t happen again

In the meantime, Templeton said he’s been focusing on ensuring this doesn’t happen again, setting up meetings with officials with the cities of Burnaby and Coquitlam.

So far he’s looking at a meeting with the city manager in Coquitlam, with whom he hopes to talk about the history of “numerous events” of contamination in Stoney Creek at a culvert on the Burnaby side of the border, which feeds Coquitlam stormwater into Stoney Creek. He also hopes to talk about technology that can prevent contamination in the future.

“The current regulations and bylaws simply aren’t enforced well enough by the cities. So it’s just a cowboy state kind of attitude,” he said, adding that he’s also called 4 city councillors in Burnaby.

“Only 1 of them has made an effort to call me back.”

That councillor, he said, was Green Coun. Joe Keithley.

“To me, as a stream keeper, when something as catastrophic as this happens, we really want someone to reach out and say to us, ‘What can we do to help you?’” he said.

Staff at the City of Burnaby have been “very helpful,” but Templeton said the big decision makers, such as councillors, are the ones who can really instill change.

“It’s going to take the people at the top to really raise the bar to put measures in place,” Templeton said.

“If we want to keep salmon in creeks in Burnaby, the city has to do a better job of policing developers. That’s the bottom line. Otherwise, it’s game over.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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