Contaminated water from the $85 million McKenzie Interchange project was pumped straight into the Colquitz River Thursday, after a mechanical pump failed during heavy rainfall.
The water breach, which bypassed the legally required on-site filtration system designed to remove contaminates from the project’s wastewater, was first noticed by Dorothy Chambers, a longstanding environmental steward and outspoken advocate for the river who checks on the salmon-bearing river regularly.
“Over an hour passed while I was there before Westpro shut off their pumps. By then the tributary and river itself was thick with their dirty water sediment and I do not know how long they had been pumping into the river before I arrived,” Chambers said.
This type of sediment release in a river is a serious threat to the aquatic life, according to Chambers. The unfiltered water release could set back previous protection and restoration work to the Gorge and the sensitive Colquitz ecosystem (which is also a federally protected bird sanctuary).
The Portage Inlet is a low-flush estuary so it rarely turns its water over. Contaminants settle and stay, affecting the entire ecosystem.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) investigated the Dec. 13 incident and met with project contractor Westpro (a division of Pomerleau Inc.) and their environment monitors to discuss the incident, and to remind them of their contractual obligation regarding environmental management.
“The contractor is now building redundancies into their practises to account for potential failures of this nature in the future, including increased equipment monitoring during heavy rainfall,” said a spokesperson for MOTI.
MOTI has employed an additional firm on the project to conduct periodic environmental monitoring and auditing to ensure the contractor meets their obligations.
This monitoring will continue for the remainder of the work on the McKenzie Interchange.
“We will continue to work closely with the contractor and our municipal partners to monitor the surrounding areas, ensuring they are not negatively impacted by the work at the McKenzie Interchange,” said a spokesperson for MOTI.
“Saanich remains committed to caring for our natural areas and looks forward to a speedy resolution to this issue,” said Tara Zajac, communications for District of Saanich.
Westpro could not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Residents are encouraged to forward any feedback or concerns to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-387-8700.
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