Releases Impacting Surface Waters in Canada

Posted by on Feb 10, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Releases to the subsurface (from underground storage tanks, pipelines, etc.) are far less visible to the public.  Often these releases, which can lead to groundwater remediation, can go undetected for hours, days, weeks, or even years.  Surface water releases, on the other hand, can be very visible and can quickly get the attention of Environmental Health and Safety professionals, regulators, and the public.

There were several releases to surface water reported that did get attention.  These releases remind us why it is important to have a good environmental management plan in place to at least minimize the chances or magnitude of a release.  Below we briefly look at some of these surface water releases and, potentially, some lessons learned that may help environmental managers.

Release to Mohawk Canal

A spill to Mohawk Canal was first noticed by a local resident.  This is not uncommon, especially in more urban areas, where “many eyes” of nearby residents are more likely to witness a release ahead of the regulators.

According to an article in The Brantford Expositor, “The Grand River Conservation Authority contacted the ministry’s Spills Action Centre on Tuesday (Jan. 28) about a red substance in the Mohawk Canal…City of Brantford pollution control staff found a reddish brown fluid floating on the surface of the canal.”

Beyond the spill, residents have also complained about the refuse in the creek.

Based on reports, the cause of the spill and amount of material spilled were undetermined.  It is believed that the release was less than 20 litres.  At the time of this writing, there was no information on what exactly this 20 litres was or where it came from.  There was some speculation that it may have come from a motor vehicle accident when a van crashed into the canal.

Release to Mimico Creek

In another release to surface water that was noticed by a resident, a green, milky substance was discovered.  It took over one month to identify the source, but they now know it was related to construction activity.

The release was attributed to Metrolinx construction and contract work being done for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.  The activity resulted in a shale sediment being released into the creek.

Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks spokesperson, Gary Wheeler, said, “We have confirmed the water in Mimico Creek was discoloured by mud from nearby construction…The shale/rock sediment in the mud can change the colour of the water from grey to green.”  He also said, “The ministry has no environmental concerns at this point and staff remain engaged with Toronto Water and the Ministry of Transportation to follow up on site conditions and cleanup efforts.”

For more information about this release, see the article in

Release to Gorge Creek

A mystery spill in Gorge Creek in British Columbia was recently solved.  The culprit, in this case, was a leaking residential heating-oil tank.  This leak resulted in oil mixing with storm water and entering surface water.

The spill got the attention of several agencies including federal, provincial, and township.

According to reports, the tank was disconnected to prevent further spills and “Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins issued a plea for residents to check their oil tanks for any signs of leakage.”

This incident is a reminder that the sources of a release can include residents as well as industry.  Old, outdated residential septic fields are also another potential source of nutrient and bacteriological pollution.

Minimize the chances of a release to surface water and groundwater by developing and implementing environmental management plans.

Release to Hay River

Finally, a release in the Northwest Territories from Hay River Mobile Home Parks, Ltd (from 2016) resulted in a fine of $150,000.

According to the online publication, HazMat Management, “An investigation determined that a fuel truck parked on Hay River Mobile Home Park Ltd. property had released a diesel/water mixture, over a 20-hour period, onto land adjacent to the Hay River.  An undetermined amount of the mixture then entered the Hay River, which is home to a variety of fish species, including walleye, whitefish, and northern pike.”

An expert testified in court that the release was anywhere from 3.3 litres to 79.1 litres.

Protecting Surface Water and Groundwater

Protection of surface water and groundwater is always challenging, involves several agencies, and includes cooperative efforts between Canada and The United States (see the International Joint Commission).  However, as evidenced in these releases, impacts can come from routine construction activity, private citizens, and contractors.

Minimizing the chances of an incident such as these requires planning, monitoring, and giving careful consideration to standard practices (operating a business, construction activity, etc.).  Nothing is “foolproof.”  However, developing standard operating procedures, mitigation measures, and environmental management plans for activities that could result in a release may be helpful to minimize the chances for a release.

Environmental Experts

If you need assistance with an environmental issue, we can help.  Dragun has more than 30 years of experience in effectively addressing environmental issues.  Send your questions, comments, or concerns to me via email or contact me at 519-979-7300, Ext. 114.