Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sand-Creek Petroleum Discharge

This morning was awful.  I am looking for the words to describe it and can't.  To put it shortly I am absolutely 100% positive I witnessed a petroleum discharge or dump of some kind in Sand-Creek flowing into the South Platte.  Furthermore I am quite certain that whoever is responsible got off scott-free.

This morning at 9:00AM it smelled like a gas station at the Sand-Creek / South Platte confluence. There was also an oily sheen across the entire Sand-Creek side of the South Platte current.  Every carp in the area (something on the order of 60?) was tightly grouped (alive but not very active) in a 20 foot section as far from Sand-Creek as they could get.  And yes, I am very aware that it always smells nasty in the area.  This was definitely very different.

I walked several hundred feet up Sand-Creek and there was an oil sheen the whole way and there was even a weird milky chocolaty sludge trapped in the small back-eddy below the confluence.  My fly smelled like gasoline.  My fingers smelled like gasoline.  I could see micro-currents and upwells in the water column that you usually just can't see.  Something was terribly wrong.

It took me a while but I found the correct Colorado Department of such and such spills / illegal discharges "Hotline" number (877-518-5608).  For some foolish reason I pictured environmental cops showing up with sirens blazing.  Three to four hours later I got the call that they were there and didn't smell anything or see any sheen on the water.  They are just men like you or me doing a job and seemed to legitimately care and if it isn't still happening when they show up there is nothing they can do but I can't help being a little disappointed by the response time.  

On the one hand I guess that is good.  Whatever happened is over and was relatively short-lived (assuming it wasn't going on all weekend).  On the other hand if it was one of the multiple refineries upstream of that location they got away with it and will probably get away with it again in the future.  I feel like vomiting.

I wish I knew more to do in that situation.  Somehow the hotline did not seem to be the trick although that is all I know to do.  This is one of those rare occasions that I wish I was a real investigative journalist instead of just a shmuck with a shmucky blog.  I can't help wondering what the history is with those refineries but would have no clue how to find out.

Since I really didn't know anything else I could do I did the obsessive and selfish thing and got on with fishing.  Maybe I should have sat there and waited until they showed up.  At any rate I met up with Chris Galvin and we spent the rest of the day swapping favorite spots up-river and talking carp.  None of those spots was hot today and we got skunked but at least I spent the rest of the day fishing with a friend instead of worrying.  I am worrying pretty hard right now though.  I can't get that sheen and smell out of my mind.  Not to mention 60 of my favorite carp huddled together in what I hope was not desperation.  Carp are tough so lets hope they and the several other nice carp pods down-stream are OK. 

12 comments:

  1. McTage,
    Someone is a bastard. A letter to the editor might start something. Might. I feel for you. My favorite local pond is dewatered by the powers to be almost every year, save for the tiniest of puddles that even monsters somehow survive in through the winter often under ice. I think though, that this explains the lack of bluegill and bass some years. Carp are tough, bless them. We carp anglers do worry about our fish. I understand that your South Platte is an industrial river, that is a shame. Ours use to be, but enlightened water policies have a minimum flow, improved sewage systems, trout work done by our local TU chapter and a greenbelt the honest envy of other cities. Storm drain run off is a major problem often not discussed, and it's managed for inner tubers which leaves little juvinille trout recruitment despite the work done for trout. I can only wish your larger river had some of the protections granted the Boise R. I'm sorry for what you witnessed, and I pray the result is minor or esentially of little consequence. Dang man, what a bummer.
    Gregg

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  2. Gregg - The DSP has actually come a long way. When my dad was a kid it could not support higher life forms. Now there are stocker Trout (with some large holdovers), self sustaining SMB and carp galore. I have always figured that fertilizer runoff, tons of trash and erratic flows were the only major issues these days. It seems I could be wrong.

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  3. McTage,
    Great blog! I've been reading for a while, and love every post. Reading the Denver Post this morning, it seems that your calls might have moved up the food chain. At least the CDPHE was working on it, but still doesn't erase the damage. Hopefully the carp are made it through unscathed, cause they sure are fun to catch!

    http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_19431452

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  4. Way to go Trevor. We're proud of you and can all learn from this. I had a similar experience with fuel oil in the drinking water at my daughter's elementary school. Since there were no standards for fuel oil in water (I was told that if it was bad enough to hurt a kid, the kid wouldn't drink it.) state officials wouldn't take action. Moving up the food chain Federal EPA Clean Water Act officials made inquiries to the state officials that finally triggered an investigation which found that a fuel oil delivery overflow had leaked into the school well. I'll look for the EPA emergency response numbers and post them. Good job...

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  5. Saw this article: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_19431452

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  6. That sucks. That kind of crap pisses me right off. On the bright side, maybe your call will lead to closer scrutiny of those streams and rivers going forward. I hope you do a follow-up post on this once they find the culprit in this mess.

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  7. It's Tuesday, and 9news now has a video up which laughably describes today's cleanup efforts (and associated EPA supervision) as a "quick reaction". I couldn't tell if the reporter said it with a straight face.

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  8. Folks, I will make an update when I have time. I actually screwed the pooch on this one in certain ways and cost the DSP 36 hours of horror. Not that I did anything wrong perse, except that I should have called somebody different or at least more people and not taken it to faith that the event was over when the intitial response claimed to find nothing. I am trying to learn what exactly I should have done different and will publish a "lessons learned" Despite what you may read in the papers about some employee smelling something, I am fairly certain that in the end it was the intelligent intervention of Gregg and a reporter from the Denver Post that finally got the ball rolling. Gregg is truly a man and a hero of mine for other reasons, now more so.

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  9. MG - I would expect a more accurate rendering of the "quick reaction" from the Denver Post soon. Many of the news reports are at least 24 hours off on when this started.

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  10. I cannot be called a fisherman (though I've enjoyed it occasionally in the past) but am otherwise an outdoorsman in Colorado (I've run and biked along Sand Creek and the Platte numerous times) -- so I wanted to stop by and commend you for caring about the creek ecosystem and pushing a reluctant bureaucracy/corporations/reporters as much as you have already. While the damage and the response are disgusting, THANK YOU for paying attention and bringing attention to it.

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  11. Mike - We are all incredibly lucky to have the DSP green-zone running through the city. It is surprisingly beautifull in so many ways.

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