Fuel tanker spill and fire kills fish in West Creek
A tanker truck crash and resulting diesel spill Monday along West Creek near Gateway left unknown numbers of fish dead and dying, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“Based on what we have seen so far, it appears the dead aquatic wildlife in West Creek experienced severe stress, likely from a combination of the petroleum product in the water and the extreme heat from the fire,” said Sherman Hebein, Parks and Wildlife senior aquatic biologist in Grand Junction.
According to the Grand Junction Fire Department, the tanker was carrying 6,000 gallons of gasoline and 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The truck crashed through a guardrail on Colorado Highway 141 near mile marker 120 and tumbled into the creek.
A fire department spokesman said an unknown quantity of petroleum product spilled into the water.
Some of the fuel ignited and the resulting fire destroyed vegetation for about a half-mile stretch of West Creek.
Since the accident, Parks and Wildlife personnel have recovered a large number of dead fish including brown and rainbow trout, sculpin and crayfish.
The total number of fish killed in the incident may never be known, but estimates can be made using counts of recovered dead fish and previous estimates of fish numbers.
“The public is understandably concerned about this fishery,” Hebein said.
“Once we are satisfied with the cleanup and restoration of this stretch of the creek, our goal will be to restock it and return the area as close to its previous state as possible.”
In previous situations where wildlife loss was caused by similar accidents, the responsible party was assessed for the damage, but Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras emphasized the accident investigation still is ongoing.
“Once we finish the investigation, we will forward the report to the attorney general for a decision,” Porras said.
The accident was the second time in less than 15 months that West Creek, a winding tributary of the Dolores River known for its healthy population of wild brown trout, has been victimized by a tanker spill.
On Oct. 24, 2011, a tanker truck overturned near mile marker 128, about 10 miles north of Gateway, and spilled an estimated 4,700 of gallons of light crude.
The light crude floats and didn’t ignite, making cleanup much quicker and easier.
Also, much of the spill never reached the creek but was stopped by a wetlands immediately below the highway.