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VIDEO: Water sampling tracks down bacteria sources along Langley, Aldergrove rivers

The project is aimed at helping sea life in bays on both sides of the border
Lisa Dreves pours out a sample of water from Bertrand Creek as part of a coliform testing program running on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Spot testing of creeks across South Langley and Surrey is the first step in reducing levels of bacteria that are affecting shellfish harvests downstream.

On Monday, Feb. 6, Lisa Dreves of Langley Environmental Partners Society was out sampling from Langley and Abbotsford creeks that run south across the Canada-U.S. border into the Nooksack River.

At a bridge in Otter Park off 248th Street, she flings an old plastic milk jug tied to the end of a rope into Bertrand Creek, hauling up about a litre of water. Smaller samples are poured into bottles for later testing. Meanwhile, another device dangled off the bridge checks the oxygen content and temperature of the stream, both important for fish.

Creeks on both sides of the border eventually empty into the Salish Sea, and both areas have been impacted by high bacteria levels, that have in turn disrupted wildlife and fisheries.

“The shellfish harvest in both Boundary Bay and Bellingham Bay has been closed,” Dreves said.

That’s because of high coliform levels from the two river systems.

Coliform bacteria can come from any rotting organic material, but LEPS, their Surrey partner A Rocha Canada in Surrey, and their American partners, are specifically looking for fecal coliforms and E. coli bacteria.

Those bacteria can come from a variety of sources along the river, Dreves said. It can be unsecured manure piles, from old and poorly maintained septic tanks, even from dog feces that isn’t picked up and disposed of properly.

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With funding from Eco Action, the trans-boundary water quality project has seen Dreves collect water samples from along local waterways like Bertrand Creek, which runs south into the U.S. and the Nooksack, and parts of the Little Campbell River in Langley, while A Rocha is sampling the Little Campbell in Surrey. LEPS monitors a total of 21 sites, while A Rocha monitors another eight.

Sampling multiple locations can give the environmental groups a better idea of where the sources of contamination are, Dreves said.

“We have been finding fairly high results,” she said.

They are also reaching out to local landowners to offer help controlling possible sources of coliform bacteria. Letters can go out as reminders in areas where high coliform counts are appearing, warning people to keep animals out of the rivers, for example.

The project is also giving away free tarps to cover manure piles, said Dreves.

Finally, they’re doing giveaways of free indigenous plants, which can be planted along streams. Their root systems help increase water infiltration and reduce runoff directly into the creeks.

The project has been running for a year and a half, but this month sees LEPS conducting its last sampling for the Nooksack River system. A Rocha is expected to wrap up its sampling for the Little Campbell system in March.

“We’re hoping for more funding to do this project all over Langley,” Dreves said.

More information about the current project, and the sampling sites, can be found at LEPS website and its water quality testing page. Most sites show fairly low levels of E. coli bacteria, but others are very high, including some sites in Langley, Abbotsford, and Surrey.

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Bertrand Creek in South Langley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Bertrand Creek in South Langley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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