A photo of foamy water in Surrey’s Tynehead Regional Park. (Photo: Janet Black)

Soapy water in Surrey park raises eyebrows

City of Surrey believes detergent was dumped into the water system, and some salmon fry were killed

Soapy water in creeks around Tynehead Regional Park has caught the attention of some locals, as well as city officials.

Resident Janet Black emailed photos of the foam to the Now-Leader, and said when she saw the contamination, city staff were already on-hand dealing with it.

“Sadly, the source apparently started from outside the park, making its way to fish bearing areas,” she wrote. “Strong proof that we all need to think about our actions and how it affects the world around us.”

City hall first got wind of a contamination Tuesday morning when staff were out doing water quality testing in Guildford, said Surrey Environment Manager Stephen Godwin.

“We test our creek areas for water quality just to check general status and that’s when she became aware of the foam,” noted Godwin. “That was on Guildford Brook near 104th Avenue and 158th Street. Right away, she called that into a provincial emergency protection number, to report a suspected spill.”

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(A photo of foamy water in Surrey’s Tynehead Regional Park. Photo: Janet Black)

The city then attempted to trace the spill to its exact point of the spill, which it was unable to determine definitively.

“It originated in Guildford Brook, which is a tributary to the upper Serpentine Creek, which turns into the Serpentine River, which then proceeds its way to the Tynehead Regional Park and out to the greater Serpentive River area,” said Godwin. “I don’t have any reports that it went any further than Tynehead Regional Park.”

He noted foam was found as far upstream as 154th and 156th avenues, and a staff member finding a large concentration of foam near 156B Street.

“She arranged a sucker truck, a hydro vac truck, to skim off some of the foam,” he explained. “We suspect it’s a soap foam, something like a detergent, a Dawn or a Sunlight. It didn’t seem like commercial foam. In the past they’ve come from car wash stations, or community car washes, but when we chased it upstream it was nothing like that.

“It doesn’t take much for somebody to dump a gallon of soap concentrate into the watercourse for it to transpire into kilometres of foam.”

Godwin said the city also found fish kill, near 158B Street and 104th Avenue.

“Some of the salmon fry were killed off, so we’ve reported that to the provincial emergency line and we’ve alerted DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada). But there’s very little anyone can do when there’s soap in the system. It’s the actual soap in the water column that’s the problem and that needs to just flush its way out,” he said.

“If someone’s just dumping out a bottle, that can happen in 30 seconds and it only shows itself when it starts to foam which can be a far distance away.”

If officials can determine who is responsible for spills, they can be fined under the city’s drainage bylaw, Godwin explained. But in some cases, such as community car wash fundraisers, staff will educate the public of the dangers of their actions and suggest ways to avoid contamination.

Fines, he said, are more for “chronic polluters.”

While incidents like this are relatively uncommon, Godwin said it’s an important example of what can go wrong when things are dumped down drains, and into the water system, that shouldn’t be.

See also: Make ‘Salmon Tracks’ in Surrey this summer, city challenges residents

“We don’t feel like it’s blown out the creek but we’re always doing education campaigns on storm drain management,” he elaborated. “We have a storm drain marking campaign going on right now to raise awareness about water going down to storm drains and into fish habitat.”

The City of Surrey has 1,500 kilometres of creeks and what gets into the tens of thousands of storm drains isn’t treated.

As a way to help salmon live a more pollution-free life in Surrey, a Storm Drain Marking Challenge started on July 1 and continues until Aug. 15.

The 45-day campaign encourages local kids and families to paint as many yellow fish by roadside drains as possible, for a chance to win prizes that include rec-centre passes and lunch kits.

For those who get involved, program operators provide kits with yellow paint, stencils and maps of nearby storm drains, to help spread awareness that only rain should go down storm drains.

To request a Salmon Tracks kit, call 604-591-4321 or emailsalmontracks@surrey.ca. The kits are also available for pickup at rec and community centres in Cloverdale, Fleetwood, Fraser Heights, Newton, North Surrey, South Surrey and Grandview Heights.

-With files from Tom Zillich

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