The following questions will be updated as we get more answers.
Latest update: August 9th, 2019, 2:30 pm
On August 15, the Minstère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre le changement climatique announced that power station operator Brookfield was responsible for this summer’s four fish kill incidents on the Lièvre River. For our response to this latest development, see our new blog: https://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/fish-kill-incidents-quebec-government-released-its-findings/
Frequently Asked Questions
When did the fish kill incidents happen?
We are aware of four incidents: on July 8th, July 19th, July 29th, and July 31.
On the 8th, we received the first report to our Pollution Hotline at 3:10 pm. Additional reports from residents and fish guides continued to come in over the next couple of days.
On Friday, July 19, reports started coming in from the Rockland area of a second incident.
On Monday, July 29th we were alerted to yet another event, this time spotted by operators of the ferry at Masson-Angers.
On the evening of July 31st we were informed by Quebec’s MFFP that their agents on site had observed freshly dead fish, indicating a fourth event had occurred on the heels of the third incident earlier that week.
In each case, the speed at which large quantities of fish were killed points to a fast-acting substance, but until all test results are in, it is impossible to pinpoint the start of the incident.
Where did this happen?
In the first two cases, the initial reports to our Pollution Hotline were from the Clarence-Rockland area. Once the provincial governments were on site, they identified that the source of the dead fish was the Lièvre river, a tributary of the Ottawa river on the Quebec side. It empties into the Ottawa river at Masson-Anger, upstream of Cumberland. This is downstream of downtown Ottawa and Gatineau.
In the third instance, we were alerted by operators of the Masson-Angers ferry, upstream of Rockland, and were able to be on site faster than the previous incidents.
What is the cause of the fish kills?
The cause remains unknown.
On July 18th, Quebec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs indicated that their tests of fish samples taken at the area were inconclusive. These tests ruled out the possibility of a disease, and point towards the presence of a toxic agent, but more information is needed to narrow down the exact cause.
On August 1st, Quebec’s Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques stated that they believed the most likely cause of the incidents was the hydro dam. We have asked the Quebec government to share the data which supports that hypothesis, but have been informed that no further comments will be provided because an investigation is ongoing. While hydroelectric dams have been known to cause fish kills elsewhere, and we cannot rule out that hypothesis at this time, it is unclear to us which mechanism is purported to be at play here.
What do you think is the cause?
We do not want to speculate until more scientific data is available.
How many fish were killed?
It is now clear that thousands of fish have been killed over the course of these incidents, though it is impossible to get an exact figure.
It is significant that a wide range of species were affected, from throughout the water column. We received reports of the following: perch, small-mouth bass, rock bass, walleye, muskellunge, channel catfish, longnose gar, as well as protected species such as the American eel, sturgeon and River Redhorse.
Who is investigating this / doing the sampling?
Because the first dead fish were spotted in the areas of Cumberland and Clarence-Rockland, the first authority to investigate was the Ontario government. They took water samples, but also identified that the dead fish were coming from the Lièvre River, which is in Quebec. We have yet to hear if they obtained any pertinent results from their samples.
Quebec’s investigation has been led by the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC) and the Ministère de des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP). They have taken fish samples after each incident, but only took water samples after the third and fourth incidents. On August 1st they announced that they were launching an official investigation, with the main focus being the hydroelectric facility in the area. They set up a command post on-site and continue their investigation.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is also looking into the incidents on behalf of the Federal Government. They have taken samples after each event, but have yet to release any findings of their investigation. Their results and conclusions are much anticipated.
Are you satisfied with the response of the authorities so far?
Ottawa Riverkeeper has long been calling for better collaboration and more information sharing across the many jurisdictions operating in the Ottawa River.
These fish kill incidents are another example of why working together serves the public. Sharing data and test results would both help authorities piece together the cause of this ongoing mystery, and reassure the public that all is being done to avoid another incident.
Now that the Quebec government has established a command post on site, a positive step, we want to make sure that all the resources are in place to have the highest possible odds of identifying the source, should a 5th incident occur. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain information about the command posts’ activities so far. We have learned that a single probe has been installed in the river to collect data (though we don’t know where precisely). In our opinion, multiple probes should be installed, including at least one upstream, to measure important parameters such a temperature and dissolved oxygen in real-time at different points in the water column.
What do test results say about the cause?
Lab results so far have been able to rule out disease as the cause. Another round of results was expected from MELCC on August 6th, but those have yet to be made public. We are filing Access to Information requests on an ongoing basis to obtain all results from various authorities as they become available.
We collected our own water samples after the third incident on July 29th, after we heard reports that the Quebec government had not taken such samples after the first two incidents. Those results did not point to any specific cause.
Who has jurisdiction over the river?
It is very complicated to decipher jurisdiction of the Ottawa River as depending on the issue, various agencies have authority. As a large portion of the Ottawa River also acts as a provincial border, this only adds to the confusion as different regulations apply depending on what side of the river you are on. Some of the agencies which have jurisdiction for this issue include:
- Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
- Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation & Parks
- Quebec’s Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques
- Quebec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs
What is Ottawa Riverkeeper doing?
After receiving a phone call about a suspicious amount of dead fish on the river, we alerted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as well as the Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to report the findings.
We reached out to the Ministère de la Faune, des Forêts et des Parcs as well as the Ministère de la Lutte contre les Changements Climatiques to provide them with the information we had received through our Pollution Hotline. We are working to obtain information about the actions they have taken, including what samples were collected, as well as the dates, times and locations of the samples.
We have been gathering info and observation reports from our network of Riverwatchers and the general public and sharing those with authorities to assist in determining a cause for the fish kill.
We were also on site on July 10, 11, 19 and 29 to observe the aftermath, and speak with witnesses and media.
When contacted by Environment and Climate Change Canada, we provided them with all the information we had collected.
We remain in regular contact with local, provincial, and federal authorities to provide additional information we receive and ask what steps are being taken to identify the cause and inform the public.
After being informed of the third incident, we went to the site that same day, July 29th. We took water samples ourselves, and sent them to be tested. Those results did not point to any specific cause.
What has Ottawa Riverkeeper been saying to media?
As stewards and defenders of a clean Ottawa River watershed, we continue to engage with media on this issue to inform the public about the latest developments, and hold authorities to account. Our Executive Director and Director of Science and Policy have given interviews in English and French to several media outlets, including, CBC, Radio-Canada, Global News, Le Droit, The Ottawa Citizen, TVA Gatineau, CTV, CFRA, COGECO, 1310News.
What can citizens do?
If you were in the Masson-Anger area on one of the days an incident occurred and saw something unusual on or near the water, contact our Pollution Hotline to report it. We have a form on our website where you can post your observations. We review every report and contact relevant authorities to help to find a solution to problems brought to our attention.
Ottawa Riverkeeper is a charitable organization. If you are interested in supporting our Pollution Hotline, or our other initiatives, please consider making a donation. We rely on individual donors who care about the river to have the capacity to respond to events such as this one.
Is it safe to swim and fish in the river?
The “Centre intégré de santé et services sociaux de l’outaouais” issued a statement (in French) on August 1st telling the public to 1) avoid swimming in the area if water appears coloured or has a strong smell, 2) swim at beaches where water is tested regularly, 3) not eat fish caught in the area of the dead fish incidents, 4) not eat dead fish with abnormal features.
Is it safe for area residents to drink their tap water?
Yes, these incidents have not impacted water treatment operations. The municipality of Rockland issued a statement confirming that water quality remains unaffected.