Mermaid Creek and estuary in Sidney turned white on Wednesday evening after a suspected paint spill into a nearby storm drain.
Ian Bruce, executive director of the Peninsula Streams Society, said samples of the substance have been sent to a laboratory for testing, but it appears to be latex paint.
“It sure looks like paint and smells like it,” Bruce said.
He said it likely came from one of several street storm drains in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Ironically, Bruce said local Girl Guides were painting yellow fish on nearby storm drains recently, reminders that to the public that storm drains lead to critical habitat and ecosystems.
Mermaid Creek runs through residential areas and flows into an estuary in Roberts Bay and the Shoal Harbour Bird Sanctuary.
On Wednesday evening, the entire creek and parts of the estuary turned milky white.
“This cound’t have come at a worse time … Two weeks ago we did 600 plantings in the estuary, about 200 volunteer hours,” Bruce said.
“I think the plants will be OK, but it’s the point of it. Why are people doing this? It’s very disturbing.”
On Thursday afternoon Bruce said the stream had returned to normal colour, but he was waiting for tide changes to see if the paint returns. The society will continue to investigate the area for potential damage, which isn’t immediately expected to show. Bruce said latex paint could prove harmful to fish, insects and plants.
The estuary is critical habitat for surf smelt, small silvery fish that provide food for shore birds and other marine life. About $500,000 has already been spent on restoring the estuary and bird sanctuary, he said.
A call to Sidney’s engineering and parks department was not immediately returned.