Poor water quality in Katzie Slough, a 10-kilometre multi-purpose channel running through Pitt Meadows, poses a health hazard from contaminants, including E. coli.
So concludes Julie Porter in a 2017 study entitled, Changes in Water Quality of the Katzie Slough: historical versus present day conditions.
Last summer, Porter examined plants, animal life, and water quality in Katzie Slough for her masters degree in ecological restoration at SFU and BCIT.
At 11 sites between the Pitt River (Kennedy Pump Station) and the Blind Channel near Airport Road, Porter took water samples for lab analysis.
“I found eutrophic conditions [oxygen deficient], low to no water flow, high levels of contaminants [phosphorous and nitrogen], invasive plants and organisms, and E. coli levels of 77 mpn throughout the waterway. These levels are above acceptable health standards for agricultural land.”
E. coli in fecal matter – sewage – can cause bloody diarrhea, bladder infection, pneumonia, giardiasis, (parasite) and typhoid fever.
It lives in soil and water for three months.
E. coli was 82 and 97 mpn near the pipe that sends sewage into Pitt Meadows from Maple Ridge (Hammond).
During heavy rains, Maple Ridge sewer lines exceed capacity.
Overflow is directed to a 50-metre channel entering the slough. Recently, I took pictures of the pipe draped with toilet paper, fecal matter, and a condom.
Overflow “incidents” are approved by Metro.
City engineer Forest Smith told me there were three in 2013, two in 2014 and 2015. He didn’t yet know the 2016 number.
Pitt Meadows resident Cal Kinsey complained of the stink they caused in 2004, as did Ken Joyner in 2007. Maple Ridge promised to address them in its 2008 budget. A new containment tank in Maple Ridge – promised recently – isn’t due before 2021.
Metro doesn’t pass E. coli counts onto Pitt Meadows, said Smith, and the city doesn’t have equipment to test itself.
Porter says Pitt Meadows should have its own technician, and meters – about $10,000, on line, to get started.
“[Sewage] is a big problem,” said Porter. “E. coli is a risk to human health and the aquatic environment. Farmers shouldn’t be using this water as it is on their food crops without knowing what’s in it.”
Smith says there’s 35 water-use licences for “the slough and ditch network.
“Some for blueberries, hay growing – flooding to harvest cranberries later.”
At a Farmers to Farmer forum hosted by Pitt Meadows and Watershed Watch this spring, farmers said they want greater flow of clean water, something denied by closed gates at Kennedy Pump Station.
High nutrient loads here promote algae blooms, parrot feather, and water lilies. Canoists on a Watershed Watch tour had trouble poling through it.
It chokes Katzie Slough despite the city’s annual ditch cleaning budget of $340,000, which Smith said “includes sloughs. Invasives are a losing battle.”
He’d welcome alternatives to current ditch cleaning. Let’s start by admitting more clean tidal water through the slough.
“The decay of invasives depletes oxygen,” said Porter.
“That kills fish and other aquatic life.”
More tests are crucial.
“I took one sample. Most studies use five, so my readings just point to an indication. The city should do follow-ups to confirm my results, and pass them – over time – to users of the water. That’s just science.”
Tests could explain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen. Invasive plants love them.
Porter thinks thick algae bloom at Kennedy “is most likely coming from fertilizer, and the phosphorus and nitrogen from the sewage pipe.
“Algae,” she warns, “can be more deadly than snake venom.”
Porter, a resident of Pitt Meadows, said she chose Katzie Slough for her research project because she wants “to save our natural places. Katzie Slough no longer functions as an ecosystem. It did once, and wants to again. It just needs a little help.”
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.