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Fresh start for airport creek

Contaminants cleaned up, new path for stream

Reay Creek is taking a new and cleaner path through Victoria Airport Authority lands after a portion has been diverted into a manmade channel.

The purpose of the $220,000 project is to reduce heavy metals and other pollutants flowing from the airport's old industrial lands on its east side into the fish-bearing creek, which runs into Bazan Bay. It crosses both North Saanich and Sidney, home of Reay Creek Park.

"The storm water quality will be greatly improved to the rest of Reay Creek and into Bazan Bay," James Bogusz, airport authority director of airside operations, technology and environment, said Monday.

A new, 210-metre-long winding diversion channel mimicking a natural stream was built this year next to the original creek, now a wetland between the industrial area and the channel.

About half the length of the creek on airport land now runs along the new channel, Boguz said.

The diversion channel concept was developed last year and Kerr Wood Leidal, consulting engineers, was hired to lead the project design team. SLR Consulting Ltd. and Murdoch de Greeff Inc. landscape architects were used for environmental and landscape consulting. Draycor Construction was the lead construction contractor.

Four or five buckets of sediments containing heavy metal were removed from storm drains, Bogusz said, adding "some of that stuff could have literally been years and years old."

Extensive testing for the Airport authority since 2005 on the upper end of Reay Creek identified concerns of contamination, paving the way for strategies to minimize its impact. Water monitoring will continue, Bogusz said.

A total of 80 tonnes of material containing contaminants next to the original creek was taken out and new material was brought in. Grasses and native plants will help create a natural habitat, prevent erosion, and filter out pollutants remaining in the old creek's route. Plantings will include Red-Osier dogwood and native willows, said landscape architect Scott Murdoch.

Water control gates have been installed. The work will also help mitigate the impact of spills of contaminants in the future.

Dave Murray, Kerr Wood Leidal manager of water resources said, it usually takes a couple of years to grow in. "If we have done our job right, no one will know that we did it."

Creek contamination resulted from decades of industrial use on airport lands. Airport officials can not point to one particular operation, but blame pollution on poor industrial practices of the past.

The channel is the latest of many steps in tackling the impact of pollution on the creek, one of two on airport lands. Ten Ten Creek, which runs into Patricia Bay, is the other and improvement work has been carried out on it as well.

In 1982, there was no summer water flow in the Reay Creek, industrial pollution was a risk, it had poor gravel quality and there were only anecdotal stories of salmon and trout being present, a Peninsula Streams Society report said. A member of the Sidney Anglers said in the early 1980s Reay Creek was worse than a polluted ditch.

Decades of restoration work have been supported by the Sidney Anglers, the Peninsula Streams Society, volunteers including former commercial fishermen, local governments, and the provincial and federal government. It hasn't all gone smoothly, however, as fish kills occurred in various years, some blamed on pollution from the upper part of the creek.

Improvements along Reay Creek include installing logs, creating gravel spawning beds for salmon, building pools and protective habitats for fish.

These days, elementary school students release young salmon they raise in classrooms. Coho salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout have been re-established in the creek, although salmon are a rare sight in the upper reaches on airport lands.