Excavators were right down at the river’s edge on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Dorothy Chambers)

WATCH: Water contamination halts CRD project construction at Colquitz River

Crews were issued stop-work orders two days in a row due to sediments contaminating the river

A CRD Wastewater Treatment construction project in the Colquitz River has caused sediment contamination and has resulted in crews being issued stop work orders two days in a row.

The project was part of the Wastewater Treatment Project and broke ground on Monday. The work involved burying a sewage pipe one and a half meters below the Colquitz River near the intersection of Marigold Road and Interurban Road. By Tuesday, the construction crews from Knappett Projects Inc. had received a stop-work order from their qualified environmental professional (QEP) as the river had become contaminated with sediment and clay, explained Dorothy Chambers, resident and Colquitz River advocate.

Crews waited until the river water cleared again and then resumed working without altering their methods.

“They never should have started up again,” she said.

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On Wednesday, Chambers spotted more sediment contamination in the river 3 kilometers downstream and called all of the spill and contamination reporting numbers she could find. At 1 p.m., the construction was shut down by the QEP again but this time indefinitely. Knappett Projects Inc. must come up with a new plan.

In a construction notice from Aug. 16, the CRD indicated that the project would take about one month to complete and would include fish salvage, installation of coffer dams and dewatering where the pipe would cross the Colquitz.

Chambers said the flow of the river should have been stopped with a dam on the west side of Marigold Road where the river is slower and more narrow. Clean water from before the dam would have been pumped out and around the construction site and back into the river. This would also have ensured the crews were working in a dry riverbed.

Instead, a coffer dam was built on the east side of the river — where it’s wider and the water moves faster — and a pipe was installed to direct the water towards a net filter. The water was never able to be stopped with these methods so crews were digging in thigh-high running water. Crews acknowledged the contamination in the work site and set up a pump to filter the dirty water in a settling tank.

Water is meant to sit in the tank to allow the sediments to settle before the water is re-released, said Chambers. Instead, the water passed through the tank and right back into the river.

“The CRD is uncomfortable,” said Chambers. “This is their project and their contamination.”

Chambers met with folks from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Developments and from the CRD at the construction site on Thursday.

“I can tell you that those who have been by are absolutely horrified,” she said.

She also noted that she’s been told how much it’s costing the CRD to halt the work, but that’s not what she’s concerned about.

Chambers is focused on the fact that the water in the Colquitz River was contaminated twice in one week which will affect the coho salmon and the cutthroat trout. The contaminated water from the river also flows into Portage Inlet and Chambers said this will affect the inlet’s nursery-like ecosystem. Sediments can kill invertebrates, cling to the gills of fish and contaminate the feeding areas of migratory birds, she explained.

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In a statement on Friday, the CRD acknowledged the contamination of the Colquitz River and noted that it was reported to “the appropriate authorities.”

“Work in this area remains on hold while we review this incident and ensure the contractor has the appropriate environmental protection measures in place,” said Andy Orr, senior manager of communications for the CRD. “The Wastewater Treatment Project is committed to environmental protection at all of our construction sites.”

Chambers is still outraged.

“I’ve lost all confidence in our CRD,” she said.

She hopes the contractors will be held accountable for the damage to the watershed.

On Friday, the construction equipment had been moved out of the water and the pump lines were not visible. Knappett Projects Inc. was not available for comment by press time.

@devonscarlett
devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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Water directly upstream from the construction site shows how clear the river should be. (Photo courtesy Dorothy Chambers)

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