Routine reporting from residents altered the Oak Bay Fire Department to fuel leaking into Bowker Creek.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said he had many residents call and email about the sheen and odour near Oak Bay Recreation, where the fire department found the sheen of oil in the waters of Bowker on Jan. 5.
“They found a very slight amount of oil up near the back of the rec centre,” said deputy fire chief Tom Pearse. “They followed it upstream and determined it was on the other side of the border there and notified Saanich.”
Saanich Public Works noticed a strong diesel smell in the area and installed booms in the creek near Mortimer Street. It was very difficult to find the source of the oil due to the high flows of the creek mostly contained in a piped system. Saanich crews estimate that they lifted more than 50 manhole covers looking for the source of the fuel located late the next day more than three kilometres from the Saanich-Oak Bay boundary. An outdoor home heating oil tank was leaking into the perimeter drain that leads to Bowker Creek. Saanich installed a siphon dam to keep fuel on the property. The oil tank was pumped out and booms placed in manholes to protect Bowker Creek, a process that was already in place in Oak Bay.
“There was quite a concern, it’s good that people are making those observations so the emergency co-ordination crew can react,” Jensen said. “The fire department reacted very quickly to set up booms.”
“As a preventative measure, our guys put out an absorbent boom where the creek goes under the walkway to catch any bit of oil that was coming down,” Pearse said.
A second spill was discovered Jan. 6 after Saanich Fire noticed an oil sheen in the Gorge Waterway. Saanich crews quickly located a contaminated outlet that would normally contain only storm water and installed a boom to contain the product from spreading into the Gorge Waterway. From there staff lifted manholes to trace the sheen back to a Walter Street home approximately half a kilometre from the Gorge. The crew dug up the drain house connection at the property line and installed a siphon dam to contain the product on the property. It is believed that the fuel is coming from an old underground home heating oil storage tank.
Saanich Public Works are confident that no more product will leave either property and plan to continue the cleanup until the private property owner hires a professional to complete the work. Saanich will continue to monitor the cleanup until it is considered complete.
Unknown old heating fuel tanks continue to be a concern where waterways are concerned, but it’s difficult to know where they all are, Jensen said.
“Efforts have been made to locate them,” the mayor said. “We like to think in Oak Bay we know where every one is, but one never knows.”
Residents are encouraged to report the smell or sight of possible contamination of waterways either to the fire department or Oak Bay public works.
“We definitely encourage anyone to report anything like that in the creek,” Pearse said. “We will investigate and see if we can identify a source and take steps to contain it.”