Turbidity in Brooklyn Creek, with stormwater pipe creating a “waterfall” in the background. Kids sometimes play under this | Photos submitted by a Como resident
Town of Comox spills raw sewage into Brooklyn Creek, doesn’t inform public
Five months ago, I decided to take a break from publishing stories on Decafnation. It was a difficult decision because I enjoy journalism and there is such a dearth of enterprise reporting in the Comox Valley.
Several news events during this past half-year have tempted me to revive my regular reporting and commentary: Daniel Arbour’s bold and forward-thinking proposal about a future with fewer fossil fuel-powered vehicles and the recent federal election come to mind.
But today I stumbled onto a story that I couldn’t resist because it involves the ongoing degradation of local waterways by a municipality and a cadre of council members who chose to hide pertinent information from their constituents.
The story involves a major pollution event with potential public health concerns in the Town of Comox about which the public has not been informed.
One of the town’s sewage pipes recently broke and an unknown volume of raw sewage spilled into Brooklyn Creek, which flows through Mack Laing Park and empties into the Comox Harbour. That created a health hazard for any children playing in the creek and at the creek’s Comox Bay estuary, and a potential lingering toxic environment for any returning fish this fall.
It also contributes to the contamination of shellfish in Comox Bay, which is under an ongoing harvesting ban.
None of the council members or town staff have discussed this sewage spill publicly or informed town residents. We couldn’t find any notice on the town’s website. And, of course, you won’t have read about it in any of the local media.
Decafnation reached out late afternoon Friday to Town Engineer Shelley Ashfield via email, who has not yet responded. We will update this story when and if Ashfield responds to our questions.
We asked Ashfield when and where the sewage break occurred and how the raw sewage could have flowed into Brooklyn Creek.
And it gets worse. On Thursday, the creek turned a milky brown color from somewhere south of Guthrie Road and covered the length of the creek to Comox Harbour. It appears, though this is not yet confirmed, that during mitigation measures following the raw sewage spill, the town dumped loads of gravel into the creek, stirring up sediment at the creek’s bottom and creating turbidity that took a long time to clear.
This also poses potential problems for wildlife.
We learned from a Comox resident that Kira Gallant of Environment Canada has an open file on issues regarding Brooklyn Creek and the Town of Comox. And that Dave Pridham, an officer with the BC Environment Ministry, is investigating both the raw sewage spill and the turbidity issue.
Decafnation has also learned that Brooklyn Creek Streamkeepers discovered dozens of dead salmon smolts along the waterway’s banks this summer. That could be linked to the fact the town discharges multiple stormwater drainage pipes into the creek, which diminishes its water quality, and also as a result of this summer’s heat domes created by climate change.
Suspected poor water quality in the creek has nearly wiped out healthy fish spawns in the creek in recent times. The creek’s headwaters begin in Courtenay, primarily Crown Isle, and pass through Area B en route to Comox, which creates a three-jurisdiction regulatory process. None of the three levels of government monitor the creek’s water quality.
The recent incident reinforces long-time concerns about the Town of Comox’s stormwater management practices. Decafnation published an intensive series of stories on this and related issues two years ago.
The town had ample warning that such a disaster could occur. But the town has ignored recommendations from multiple engineering consultants dating back more than two decades to upgrade its stormwater practices, including the building of detention ponds to filter toxic runoff before it enters sensitive waterways and regular collection of water quality data.
There is a pending BC Supreme Court case about the town’s handling of stormwater scheduled to begin next spring.
But Comox residents might question their elected council members why they didn’t inform the public about the raw sewage spill into the creek? Did they even know about the spill? If not, then who is providing oversight of town operations?
Some people believe the Town Council of Comox is the least transparent of all Comox Valley municipalities. You might think that council members heading into municipal elections in 2022 would be trying to change this perception.
This story has been updated to correct an error that Brooklyn Creek travels through Macdonald Wood Park.
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Thanks for this informative but distressing article.
so now you know the drawback to electing all younger councillor’s . Remember don’t vote for old people?
this is what us Tai chi practitioners would call a case of Turbid Chi…one usually would try an organ cleansing to put things back in balance The town council of Comox is an organ of government I believe…
Although I agree with your cleansing comment with regard to some of the council, it is imperative to recognize that councillors are generally unknowledgeable on many matters (Apparently judgement included) and rely heavily on staff guidance and so-called expertise. Consider that the ToC has had like problems for many years. If you want to cleanse, staff also has to be reviewed, otherwise new councillors will get the same advice and viewpoints. To be clear, this is in no way to excuse the councillors.
In BC all spills are to be reported wonder if this one was? I did not see it on the government site, though the site may not be updated regularly.
George you’re the man .If you believe it bad in Comox you should come to Port Mc neill .We had a good man as watch dog keeping a eye on council . They fix that last election they put him on council and gave him a Vaccine of keep quit . Now you can lie all you want on Council no one is watching. Even two of those council members are on the Board of Community Futures that is a Volunteer organization and the watch dog is the Politicians . Now the money flow to our friends and the Goats farms having a BALL.
Glad to see you back George All our streams are under severe duress from logging, over development and overheating which greatly stresses Salmonids. The lack of dilution water in Brooklyn Creek makes it especially susceptible to spills such as this and storm drains should be diverted well away from any fish bearing stream. Growing up in this Valley I have witnessed the rapid and steady decline in fish populations with no relief from DFO or the province. The struggle over Fairy Creek is a prime example of the lack of consideration for our grandchildren who will never see a pristine forest or a stream full of spawning salmon!
Well said Bill. Comox has been a very poor neighbour for years and no one seems to call them on it. They dump their dirty storm water into Lazo Marsh and surrounding farms. Staff has misinformed council for years. Council finally jettisoned the CAO but should have gone further. The towns track record when it comes to the environment is disgusting and taxpayers should be ashamed and disgusted.
You can not just dmp gravel into a fsh bearing creek there are laws and steps you must take to prevent sedimant washing into the water from your work site. Another shame on Comox.
In your story, you really run loose with the terms “storm water” and “raw sewage”. There is a very large difference between the two that seems to “muddy the waters”. Storm water discharge running into the creek can be a problem, but not necessarily. Sewage (human excrement) definitely is. Perhaps part of the problem is that Comox has the same problem as Courtenay – that people in the past have mixed up the two types of pipes from their homes and storm water includes some sewage? More illumination and less sensationalism is necessary.
Ron — The article is quite clear about the two different problems. Our information is that the recent incident was a spill of raw sewage from a broken pipe. But the ongoing problems of dwindling life in the creek, pollution flowing through its waters and into the bay and the erosion of creek banks are the result of stormwater runoff.
As a member of the Brooklyn Creek Stream keepers, I am disgusted by this ,George. I walked the lower part a week ago and saw a number of dead fish and discolored water in the lower reaches.
It makes me wonder why I bothered to paint the fish prints on the Crown Isle storm drains.
Thanks George, welcome back
I was walking along the creek last Thursday afternoon and noticed that the creek was actually yellow! I cut my walk short and immediately phoned The Public Works Dept. on returning home to report what I had seen. I received a phone call back and an employee informed me that some work was being done on the creek and they had to dump some gravel to repair the gravel bed, that the turbidity was nothing to worry about. I am shocked to now read your article. Did this employee know what really happened? Or was she covering up the real facts? I am phoning Comox again on Monday.
Have missed your commentaries! This recent one is hard to believe Tharp this could occur!
Thank you for this informative article. I have missed reading Decafnation and wondered where you went! I don’t live in Comox but I care very much about our Comox Valley community, environment and wildlife. Please keep us informed with Decafnation. I very much appreciate your journalism!
Thank you for keeping us informed George, on the recent blunder and the other ongoing investigations. Man, we’ve missed you!! We walked the creek last week; I noticed that “waterfall” as our dogs drank from the creek there, it’s upstream from the fish ladder. Not good. Looking forward to the all the “truths” being shared!
Thank you so much. Whoops! We use the harbour recreationally (SUP and swimming) like so many others. In addition to fish, waterfowl and shellfish hazards this is a huge public health hazard. Welcome to Developing World Comox!
Good job George. You are correct that there is no longer any serious investigative reporting in the Valley. Why, good research into the CVRD alone could fill a real newspaper every day. As for the local radio stations, they are a joke news-wise.