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Topsoil, not sewage, identified as source of Capilano River spill

Long-term environmental impacts are not expected, according to the Ministry of Environment

What was said to be a sewage leak flowing into the Capilano River earlier in March, has now been identified as topsoil.

The District of North Vancouver first reported on Monday, March 6 that sewage was leaving private property and entering the waterway at a storm outfall pipe near the Fullerton Avenue bridge. The Ministry of Environment sent response officers to the site, which was also attended by representatives from local governments. The spill was mitigated with sandbags and pump trucks, as extensive testing was done to determine the cause.

But this week a statement was issued by Wynford Group, the property management company for the adjacent Woodcroft Estates apartment complex, that there was no sewage leak at all. Instead, Wynford said that the issue stemmed from soil – mixed with natural ingredients like manure – from recently completed landscaping work on top of one of the apartment parkades.

“We believe after water sampling and drainage, pipe, and sump pump inspections, that the soil mixed with rainwater made its way through the lines and out to the river,” reads the statement, issued to residents in the Woodcroft complex.

Wynford added that higher levels of ammonia were detected but evaporated once it mixed with the river water. “This is what we believe caused people to think it was sewage water (smell of the manure in the soil) and the yellow appearance that caused the involvement of so many groups and reports in the media.”

'Long-term impacts are not expected,' Ministry of Environment says

While the initial smell, visual inspection and water sampling results indicated a sewage leak, the Ministry of Environment has confirmed that extensive smoke and dye testing has found no leaks in the sewage infrastructure.

“Topsoil brought to site for a landscaping project has subsequently been identified as the source of the spill,” the ministry said. “The property owner is committed to removing the topsoil from the property and undertaking necessary flushing and associated clean up once this occurs.

Regarding potential environmental impact – which experts feared would be devastating for local fish populations in the case of a raw sewage leak – the ministry added that manure leachate would have similar potential impacts as sewage.

“However, the levels of nutrients and microbial activity sampled were below water quality guidelines and long-term impacts are not expected,” the ministry said.

The Ministry of Environment said it has communicated expectations for monitoring further impacts with the property owner while plans are made to remove the topsoil.

The ministry added that its officials have met with representatives from Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), who have confirmed that the Nation’s concerns have been addressed and they support the expectations the ministry has set for continued environmental monitoring.

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