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Mystery spills cloud Byrne Creek

Paul Cipywnyk of the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers inspects a cloudy residue that flowed into the creek for the second time this week on Tuesday. The city
Paul Cipywnyk of the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers inspects a cloudy residue that flowed into the creek for the second time this week on Tuesday. The city's environmental department is investigating.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A pair of mysterious spills that turned Byrne Creek a milky white colour on Monday and Tuesday has a local streamkeeper concerned.

Paul Cipywnyk said he was alerted about the first spill Monday afternoon. When he went to investigate he found the water running through the new fish ladder below Griffiths Drive had turned almost white.

And while a walk further downstream turned up no dead or distressed fish, Cipywnyk said, "any kind of sediment getting into the creek isn't good."

The cloudiness cleared later in the day, but it turned murky again on Tuesday.

Christine Ensing, the City of Burnaby's fisheries habitat and environmental services officer, said the spills were traced to a broken irrigation pipe on private property. In addition, a water main break last week affected waterways throughout the city.

She said both problems have been rectified, but Byrne Creek was still murky on Wednesday.

"It's unfortunate for the fish, but it happens sometimes," she said.

Cipywnyk hopes the spills serve as a reminder that anything that gets washed off city streets or poured down storm drains eventually ends up in waterways like Byrne Creek. And that's often to the detriment of the fish streamkeepers have been working for more than 16 years to reestablish in the sensitive habitat.

"It does get somewhat discouraging," said Cipywnyk of having to investigate spills into the creek. "People have no idea of the impact their actions have. They're in a hurry or they don't know better. They're just happy it's gone."

Cipywnyk said streamkeepers'  efforts may have dodged a bullet this time as most of the eggs laid in the stream bed have already hatched and the young fish are likely making their way to the Fraser River.

But for those who lingered, "it's hard for them to get away from events like this," said Cipywnyk. "There's not a lot of places of refuge."

Cipywnyk said Byrne Creek's passage through a busy urban corridor is a dual-edged sword.

It's vulnerable to all kinds of abuse from people washing their cars and letting the soapy water run into storm drains to runoff from construction sites to the careless disposal of toxic substances by businesses. But with people almost always walking along the network of trails that flank the creek, spills are quickly reported.

Signs along the trails encourage people spotting a spill to call the city's environmental emergency hotline at 604-294-7200 that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cipywnyk said the education process is never-ending.

"It's an issue of connection," he said. "If you don't have the connection to the environment, it's out of sight, out of mind."

 

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