CN
Squamish
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
BC Ministry of Environment
Squamish Nation
Frequently Asked Questions


What was spilled?
What were the human health effects?
What were the impacts to local well-water?
What fish species were impacted?
Who will pay for the cost of recovery?
What is being done to help the river recover?
What is the plan for steelhead propagation?
What other fish culture programs are underway?
How is the river being monitored?
Why don't we see much happening on the river?
Will the spill result in long-term impacts to the Cheakamus River ecosystem?
Will the loss of fish impact bear and eagle health in the watershed?
What is the role of CERTC?
What is the role of the Stakeholder Team?
Will there be fishing closures?
Will more public events be held?
What can residents do to help?

What was spilled?
The incident occurred in the early morning hours of August 5, 2005 and resulted in the derailment of eight empty centre beam lumber cars and one loaded tank car. An estimated 41,000 litres of sodium hydroxide leaked into the Cheakamus River. The product, also known as caustic soda, is used in the manufacturing of a wide range of industrial and consumer products such as soap, toothpaste and, in higher concentrations, drain clearing products. It is completely soluble in water and resulted in a rapid increase in pH to levels toxic to aquatic organisms. The product flowed to Howe Sound allowing the pH in the Cheakamus River to return to background levels on the same day. Once diluted, sodium hydroxide is not persistent and does not remain in the environment.

What were the human health effects?
There were no cases of human health affected by the spill, reported to Vancouver Coastal Health. Under the direction of the Provincial Emergency Program, the river was closed for recreation on the day of the spill. Vancouver Coastal Health encouraged anyone who may have been in or near the water at the time of the spill to contact their doctor or a local hospital, but no visits were reported. Vancouver Coastal Health declared the river safe for recreational activities one day after the spill.

What were the impacts to local well-water?
There were no measurable impacts to local well-water. Vancouver Coastal Health and CN's consultants tested all downstream wells within 100 meters of the river for several days following the spill. There were no reported cases of contamination and all wells were declared safe for use three days after the spill once the laboratory results were known.

What fish species were impacted?
Fish species were impacted in different ways depending on how their life histories related to the timing of the spill. Here is a summary of the estimated mortalities:

Chinook
- 90% of parr juveniles and 0% of fry juveniles from the 2004 brood year
- 50% of 2005 spawning population

Chum
- Juveniles not affected
- 2005 spawning population not adversely affected

Coho
- 50% of juveniles from 2004 brood year, and a small percentage from the 2003 brood year.
- 2005 spawning population not adversely affected

Pink
- Juveniles not affected
- Between 3 - 10% of 2005 adult spawning population

Steelhead
- 90% of mainstem juveniles present in the river at the time of the spill from 2003 to 2005 brood years
- 2006 and 2007 steelhead spawning populations not thought to be adversely affected

Dolly Varden/Bull Trout
- 90% of the adult, parr and fry population present in the river at the time of the spill were likely impacted, but the overall population effects of the spill on char are uncertain due to the lack of historical information on abundance and seasonal utilization of the Cheakamus River.

Rainbow Trout
- 90% of the adult, parr and fry population present in the river at the time of the spill

Cutthroat Trout
- The effects of the spill on cutthroat trout are uncertain, as only one fish was recovered and there is a lack of historical information on abundance and utilization of the Cheakamus River. It is likely that 90% of the adult, parr and fry population present in the time of the river at the time of the spill were impacted.

Lamprey (2 species)
- Impacts were likely large but the lack of background sampling and available information on abundance and densities for lamprey, precludes comparison to historic data and developing a defensible impact assessment. Recent sampling efforts targeted at lamprey indicate a considerable number of lamprey from a variety of age classes survived the effects of the spill.

Sculpins (2 species)
- 90% of the adult, parr and fry population of cottids present in the river at the time of the spill were impacted

Stickleback
- Two (2) three-spine sticklebacks were recovered after the spill and no attempt was made to estimate the impact of the spill on this species. Sticklebacks tend to reside in backwater areas that were protected from the main affects of the spill and the impact on this species may not have been as great as other more mainstem oriented species.

Fish present in tributary streams at the time of the spill were not affected.

Who will pay for the cost of recovery?
CN has voluntarily committed to restoring the Cheakamus River to its pre-spill condition. A Recovery Plan is being developed by CN and CERTC and will include opportunities for public comment. The present Recovery Plan is designed to remain active until 2016 with annual reviews and more thorough reviews every three years to update the plan as required.

What is being done to help the river recover?
There are a number of programs underway to accelerate fish recovery and enhance fish habitat in the Cheakamus River. These include:

Cheekye River Bridge Rehabilitation - CN is preparing to modify a concrete apron at the base of its rail bridge to improve fish access. Work is scheduled for summer 2006.

Wilson Slough Reconnection - Many of the species of fish impacted by the spill utilize the estuary for a portion of their life cycle. CN is investigating the feasibility of installing a culvert beneath the CN rail yard in Squamish to connect the Central Channel to Wilson Slough. If feasible, this project would improve water quality and provide better access for fish to estuarine rearing habitat.

Paradise Valley - CN is examining proposed projects at the North Vancouver Outdoor School (NVOS) and on lands owned by the Squamish Nation to determine applicability for target species and anticipates undertaking work in 2006 and future years. CN will be looking at other opportunities NVOS has for projects such as new channel developments targeting chinook and steelhead and potential additions of large woody debris habitat structures.

Fish Habitat Structures - CN has invited proposals to undertake a risk analysis and feasibility study for the installation of fish habitat structures in the Cheakamus River. The study will examine risks and benefits and identify suitable structure designs and locations.

Fertilization - CN has actively reviewed past water quality studies to determine the nutrient status of the Cheakamus River and the potential biological benefit of undertaking fertilization studies. The review has determined that the nutrient levels within the Cheakamus are within acceptable standards and presently does not meet typically accepted criteria for undertaking a fertilization program. For more information, please check out the fertilization feasibility study.

CN Funding Program - CN is looking at a partnership arrangement with existing funding programs to provide a funding source for groups and agencies to submit projects targeting the restoration of the Cheakamus River. This initiative will likely begin in 2007.

Other Ideas - CN, through CERTC, is soliciting proposals for projects to be undertaken by CN aimed at increasing fish numbers, habitat or habitat quality.

What is the plan for steelhead propagation?
The Ministry of Environment is implementing a limited steelhead hatchery propagation program on the Cheakamus River for 2006 and 2007. Ten pairs of fish were collected for gamete harvesting in 2006 with the goal of releasing 20,000 smolts in 2007. The eggs and fry will be raised under protocols established and implemented by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC. The smolts produced through this program will eventually augment the wild adult spawners in 2009 and 2010. The Ministry of Environment will release further details of the program as they become available.

Additional works planned for implementation over the next few years will target increased rearing capacity for steelhead juveniles. Works may include habitat structures in the Cheakamus River, reconnecting sections of the Wilson Slough to the estuary, new side channel developments, and fish passage improvements.

What other fish culture programs are underway?
CN in conjunction with DFO have undertaken fish culture programs in 2005 for pink and chinook salmon. The chinook program is scheduled to continue in 2006 and the pink program again in 2007.

How is the river being monitored?
Monitoring of the health of the Cheakamus River started immediately following the spill and is ongoing. Assessments of benthic invertebrates (ex. Bottom dwelling insects) were undertaken by CN and other groups for several months after the spill. Water quality monitoring (pH testing) and remediation (derailment site) were completed between August and December 2005. CN is undertaking fish density sampling in the non-anadromous reach, in the Cheakamus River and at the North Vancouver Outdoor School. A data sharing agreement between CN and BC Hydro is in place to share fisheries data on the Cheakamus River for programs operated by BC Hydro, including the rotary screw trap and adult steelhead assessments.

Why don't we see much happening on the river?
Restoring the river to its pre-spill state requires planning. The majority of impact assessments are or will soon be complete, allowing for the determination of which species at which life stages were impacted and the extent of these impacts. Without this information, it would be impossible to develop plans or target species in an effective manner. With the impacts more clearly known, a Recovery Plan is being developed and recovery opportunities are being investigated and implemented, including new side channels, fish passage corrections at Cheekye River and conducting risk/feasibility assessments for adding habitat structures to the Cheakamus River.

Will the spill result in long-term impacts to the Cheakamus River ecosystem?
It is not anticipated that the spill will result in long-term impacts to the ecosystem, although some species will likely take longer to recover than others. Benthic invertebrates appear to be recovering; salmon and adult steelheads have spawned in the river since the spill; and millions of juvenile chum and pink salmon were estimated to have migrated out of the river in spring 2006. The rotary screw traps operated by BC Hydro and electrofishing and trapping studies undertaken by CN show coho, pink, chinook, stickleback, lamprey, and rainbow trout/steelhead juveniles are all present in the river. A Screening Level Assessment of Ecological Effects is being completed to determine if impacts are expected to other wildlife species, including eagles and bears

Will the loss of fish, affect bear and eagle health in the watershed?
Relative to the total available food supply and large range area of these species, and the unaffected chum spawning population in the Cheakamus River, impacts are not expected on eagles or bears. The Screening Level Assessment of Ecological Effects study will review this potential in greater detail.

What is the role of CERTC?
Shortly after the spill, the Cheakamus Ecosystem Restoration Technical Committee (CERTC) was formed to understand the ecosystem level impacts and develop restoration and monitoring strategies for species affected to accelerate the return of the Cheakamus ecosystem to a pre-spill state as fast as reasonably possible. CERTC meets monthly to review expert advice and provide recommendations to its steering committee and CN. CERTC is made up of representatives from CN, District of Squamish, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BC Ministry of Environment, and Squamish Nation. More information on the work being done by CERTC is available on the Committee Activity page.

What is the role of the Stakeholder Team?
The Cheakamus Ecosystem Restoration Stakeholder Team is comprised of representatives from interested organizations and individuals with local knowledge of and experience with the Cheakamus River. The Stakeholder Team provides suggestions into the development and implementation of monitoring and restoration programs for the Cheakamus ecosystem. For more information, check out the Stakeholder Team page.

Will there be fishing closures?
Limited fishing closures for specific species in years of greatest concern are possible. Closures are not expected for prolonged periods of time, and other opportunities within the watershed will still be available. Decisions regarding fisheries closures will be made through the usual processes of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and BC Ministry of Environment and may include some input from CERTC.

Will more public events be held?
Yes. A third public event is scheduled for August 17, 2006 (Totem Hall, 4:30 - 8:30 pm) at which the public can ask questions, and learn about the recovery progress and next steps. CN and CERTC are committed to keeping community members up to date on the progress of the recovery and future plans. In February 2006, some 175 local residents attended an open house hosted by CERTC at the Squamish Adventure Centre. Visitors were provided with the opportunity to talk directly to committee members and other experts on the work done to assess the impact of the spill, and plans for river recovery.

What can residents do to help?
Anyone with an interest in the recovery of the Cheakamus River ecosystem is invited to share their knowledge with the scientists who are developing the overall recovery plan. Individuals may send their comments or ideas directly to CERTC via comments@certc.ca. Alternatively you can share your information or ideas with a member of the Stakeholder Team. That representative can raise the issue for discussion at a regular meeting of the Stakeholder Team, and ensure it is communicated to CERTC members.