Nearly 400 residents connected to the Copper Side Estates Water System could not consume water for more than a week after BC Hydro spilled hydraulic fluid near a well last month on Dec. 3. (Contributed Photo)

Copper Side Estates Water System owner seeks compensation following BC Hydro’s hydraulic fluid spill

Remediation costs near $2,000, affecting almost 400 residents

The owner and small water systems operator for Copper Side Estates Water System is seeking compensation from BC Hydro, following last month’s hydraulic fluid spill.

The spill resulted in more than a week-long wait for results before Copper Side Estates residents could consume water safely.

BC Hydro’s Environmental and Pollution Prevention team responded to the incident which occurred on Dec. 3 when a hydraulic hose failed on one of its line trucks, resulting in an estimated spill of 10 to 15 litres of hydraulic fluid, according to the provincial crown corporation.

“We immediately began our spill response procedure, which included the shutdown of the truck, isolation of the failed line, containment of the spill area, followed by the excavation of the soil around the spill,” a BC Hydro media spokesperson stated in an email to the Terrace Standard on Dec. 5.

“Following this, confirmatory soil samples were taken, which have been submitted for analysis to ensure all contaminated material has been recovered.”

READ MORE: No damage to water systems following BC Hydro’s hydraulic fluid spill

But because the spill occurred close to a well, Beverley Hayden, the owner and certified small water systems operator of Copper Side Estates Water System, was concerned their evaluation was inadequate. As the supplier of water to almost 400 residents in the Copper Estates area, she says she was legally responsible to ensure there was no trace of contamination.

“They were adamant that they were doing their due diligence and there was no problem, and I could not seem to impress upon them that as the owner of the water system, I had roughly 400 people that I had to consider and that was a big problem,” she says.

“Under my licence as a small water systems operator, I have to guarantee it’s not affected. I just can’t say, ‘Well, BC Hydro told me that it didn’t get into my water system. I also drink that water, I’m not going to take that chance either… Their attitude towards me was just basically, ‘We had a spill and it’s satisfactory, so we’re done.’”

The Northern Health Authority also attended the scene to ensure the situation was addressed and took a precautionary approach of immediately notifying area residents to avoid using their water until testing proved it was safe to drink.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says they received a report about the incident later that day and reported that the hydraulic fluid had not affected the water in the area.

Hayden says BC Hydro did clean up the site quickly but she was not notified of the hydraulic fluid spill after it occurred. It was only while driving home that she noticed the incident.

“I discovered that they were cleaning up this spill at three o’clock in the afternoon. They did not notify me and I live across one block away from there. And they ensure me they felt no need and had no mandate to notify me,” she says.

“They had dug out all the dirt and they were going to cover it up but I refused to let them do that… they told me about five litres [spilled] but then the written report I got said 10 to 15 litres.”

READ MORE: Researchers to flush Skeena with bright dyes for spill-response study

Working directly with the water system’s designated environmental health officer from Northern Health, Hayden kept the water turned off as they worked to take additional samples and repeatedly flushed out the entire reservoir.

The task turned complicated as the pipes began to freeze, extending the job overnight and requiring additional help from two residents who volunteered their efforts using the Thornhill Fire Department’s tools to pump out the remaining liquid.

“It was very problematic, I couldn’t release the water into the river because it would go with fish and I couldn’t have it held away because there’s no place to dump it because the landfill at Onion Lake didn’t accept it because it’s got chlorine in it,” Hayden says.

Hayden delivered cases of bottled water to all the houses connected to the system as crews worked for days to resolve the issue. After the water was finally pumped out, residents were allowed to use the water with caution only to wash, shower and flush toilets

It wasn’t until Dec. 10 that the “Do Not Consume” notice was lifted to a “Boil Water Advisory”. On Dec. 13 residents were informed that their water system was back to normal and safe to consume.

Resident Erin Blaney says it was a frustrating time for everyone in the Copper Estates area, especially as it was unexpected to be without water for so long during the winter season.

She appreciates how proactive Hayden was to ensure their water system was safe from chemicals but expresses disappointment with BC Hydro for stepping away so quickly.

“BC Hydro has done nothing to help take ownership of the situation and just kind of said ‘We dug it up and sent samples so we did our due diligence,’ which isn’t right,” says Blaney. “I don’t think that our community water system should be footing the bill for this.”

Total costs after flushing, sample costs and purchasing bottled water for the community came close to $2,000, Hayden says.

READ MORE: LETTER: Customers should not have to pay for BC Hydro Crisis Fund

In an email to the Terrace Standard, a spokesperson from BC Hydro writes that “we were not aware that testing was taking place at a nearby water well.” The spokesperson adds that results were approved by Northern Health and the Ministry of the Environment, “both of which indicated no further action was required by BC Hydro.”

The spokesperson added that a customer can submit a claim which will be reviewed with supporting documentation.

Hayden has submitted paperwork and is now awaiting BC Hydro’s reply on whether they will receive compensation.

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