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Sewage cleanup complete; waiting for test results

Tests for bacteria to come back this week




By Andrew Mitchell

There’s no way of knowing how much sewage found its way into the Crabapple Creek system after a plumbing error during the Crystal Lodge renovation, but test results should show whether the cleanup was a success.

The error was discovered on Friday, Aug. 5 when members of the public reported a foul odour coming out of the ditch at the south end of the Whistler Golf Course Driving Range. After a short investigation, the municipality determined that the source of the sewage was the Crystal Lodge. The construction company accidentally connected their sewage pumps to the stormwater system, rather than the municipal sewage line.

The stormwater system runs through the village, under the driving range, and crosses under the highway to the Whistler Golf Course, where it flows into a pond, then the Crabapple Creek system.

The construction company met with the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health, the RMOW and Cascade Environmental Resources on Aug. 8 to come up with a recovery plan.

The recovery work wrapped up on Sunday, Aug. 14, and Cascade Environmental took more than a dozen samples downstream of the site on Monday.

“Some criteria was given to us by the Environmental Protection Division… and the tests will determine if we’re finished cleaning up or not,” said Mike Nelson, the senior aquatic ecologist for Cascade Environmental.

There were three parts to the cleanup. The first was to use suction pumps to clean the ditch and other contaminated areas of all the sewage. The second step was to use an excavator to clear the drainage ditches of any sewage that might have leeched into the soil. Thirdly, the cleanup involved flushing out the storm water drain. A robot and camera was sent into the drain to ensure that the cleanup was complete.

The risk to the public is that fecal choliform bacteria from the sewage will come into contact with swimmers and other water users. People can become ill if the bacteria is somehow ingested or comes in contact with their eyes.

If the tests don’t meet provincial safe levels for choliform the cleanup efforts will resume immediately, says Nelson. Most of the bacteria will likely be killed by continued exposure to ultraviolet rays and through natural processes within the water system. There is little risk to fish and invertebrate species in the waterway.

“We did have some positive tests in the water initially, but the majority of high levels were in the upper levels of Crabapple Creek,” said Nelson. “The further we went downstream the less we detected. The new tests should show if bacteria has spread or has died off, as well as whether we need to do more work to clean up any residual (sewage) sources in the creekbed.

Monday’s tests were conducted at more than a dozen sites along the Creek, as well as in the River of Golden Dreams system as far as Highway 99 by Meadow Park.

To date there have been no complaints of smell from customers or staff at the Whistler Golf Course.

Wallace & Co., the construction company conducting the renovations for Crystal Lodge owners Burrard International, are in charge of the cleanup operations. According to construction manager Kelly Klassen, the situation could have been worse if the renovations were completed, or if it had rained following the plumbing error.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “There were definitely some good circumstances in our favour to minimize the impact.”