It was the sort of hands-on lesson Mike Kory did not anticipate.
The environmental technology instructor at Camosun College was taking water samples with a handful of students at Douglas Creek around lunch time on Friday, May 24 when they could see suds bubbling up in the water near a storm drain emptying into the creek just underneath Ash Road bridge.
A strong, tear-inducing odor also started to fill the air and dead salmon chum soon started to float up. Earlier, Kory had spoken to his students about how much the creek had improved, but now events were making a mockery of all the work that had gone into restoring the creek. Ultimately, Kory and his students counted a dozen dead fish, likely having suffocated.
“The students were out of their minds,” he said. “They couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Kory said the spill lasted for some 20 minutes, and left a deep mark on the minds of this students, whom he called “budding environmentalists” with some calling the District of Saanich to find out what happened. Cory also made some calls, but so far it is unclear who drained what into the river to kill off the fish.
Kory speculates that it was chlorine or bromine, chemicals used to clean pools and hot tubs, that spilled into the creek, with the proviso that he cannot be sure. Whatever entered the water, however, must have been highly concentrated, said Kory, who estimates multiple gallons of the harmful substance flowed into the creek.
When Kory and the students observed the spill, they did not take samples of water, as they instead focused their efforts on moving fish to another part of the creek to save them. Kory said it is not clear whether they survived.
Events such as this spill threaten to undermine the thousands of hours of volunteer work worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid work that went into restoring the creek as a salmon-bearing stream, said Kory, who wonders how many comparable incidents have already happened without anyone having noticed them.
This said, he hopes that drawing attention to this incident will spark somebody’s memory.
“It was such a shame,” he said.
The Saanich News has reached out to the District for comment, and will update this story accordingly.