More than 1,000 fish were killed after a resident emptied chlorinated pool water into a storm drain that discharges into Musqueam Creek, according to the Musqueam Fisheries Department.
The incident occurred Sept. 27.
Aboriginal fisheries officers Willard Sparrow and Morgan Guerin spotted a red fire hose draining clear liquid into the storm sewer on Salish Drive mid-afternoon. When they stopped to investigate, they noticed a heavy chlorine smell, which Sparrow suspected was coming from a pool.
"We know the catch basin area, so we went to the discharge point [at Salish Drive and Musqueam Creek], which we call 'culvert from hell,' he told the Courier Oct. 5.
"It's been a sore spot in the area for a few decades now due to the fact it's a spot where fish kills have been occurring almost on a regular basis because people have been spilling stuff into the catchment basin. It discharges into the stream and they just assume it disappears and goes to a magic place."
Sparrow said the problem is becoming less frequent through education, but it's still an issue.
At the discharge point, the fisheries officers again noticed an extreme chlorine smell that was stronger than a typical indoor pool. They saw fish belly up and on closer inspection confirmed the water being discharged was chlorinated water.
The officers contacted the fisheries manager, the Musqueam Indian Band and band manager. Then they followed the hose back to the house where residents were pumping water from a swimming pool onto the street.
The residents stopped and apologized, but an estimated 1,000 spine stickleback, Coho salmon and rainbow trout were killed.
Residents told Sparrow a flood occurred in their basement when they were discharging pool water into their sump, which prompted them to pump pool water through the hose into the storm drain.
"When we started collecting the fish evidence, we noted the fish were already at a level of decay, which indicated that they were probably pumping chlorinated water in there for more than just that one day," Sparrow said. "And right now, nine days later, the stream still smells like chlorine."
Fisheries officers are required to collect one out of every 10 dead fish for evidence, which is how the total number was calculated.
"We further investigated and we noted that the Coho were returning to spawn-the adult Coho and there were actually three dead Coho that died in the kill zone where the chlorine was killing everything from Salish Drive and Musqueam Creek to Crown Street, which is about a block-and-a-half long," added Sparrow, who noted Environment Canada's enforcement office was notified.
(In an email to the Courier, Environment Canada's enforcement branch said it was looking into the matter but declined further comment.)
Fish have left the area because of poor water quality, according to Sparrow.
"The fish have slowly returned to the lower reaches, but we don't see any spawners in the creek at all in this part of the creek which we'd normally see. But they are at the mouth of the creek and there's pooling up at this time where we normally don't see very many fish-like 20 to 25 fish on an annual basis."
The incident is particularly troubling for Sparrow and others who've volunteer their time to care for the creek.
"It's a real kick in the gut. It's thousands of people's hours and thousands of people's efforts that were put in, which were just wiped out in a moment's time. That saddens me. It's hard to hold it back," Sparrow said.
Richard Sparrow, manager of the Musqueam Fisheries Department, suspects such incidents are more common than people think.
"The only reason we even know about this was our aboriginal fisheries officers just happened to be driving by at that time and happened to witness it," he said. "I mean there are several in the surrounding community who own pools. Do they all drain them by going through the proper process-taking care of it with an environmental mindset? A lot of people just don't understand where those drains actually lead to."
The Musqueam Fisheries Department wants the public to realize distinctions are important.
The sanitary sewer system is designed to handle runoff from household sinks, showers, toilets and swimming pools, which should have drains directly connected to sanitary sewers. Storm drains, or catch basins, allow rainwater runoff to be collected to prevent road and property flooding. Some are marked with a yellow fish symbol as a reminder they're connected to creeks, streams and other environmentally sensitive bodies of water.
Chlorine and pool chemicals kill fish, so hot tubs and pools should never drain in yards or streets because it will end up in the storm sewer system.