Discharge into Happy Creek kills over 2,000 fish

Other animals observed dead near creek include a raccoon, worms and salamanders

By Katie Demeria

Discharge into Happy Creek from a Front Royal car wash Friday resulted in the death of more than 2,000 fish.

According to Town Manager Steven Burke, a black pickup truck was observed dumping several drums of material at a car wash on 5th Street and North Commerce Avenue during the day on Friday.

“Subsequent to that dumping, the material did make its way into the storm sewer on 5th Street,” Burke said.

On Saturday, representatives from the Virginia Department of Environment Quality deemed the creek once again safe for recreational use, according to Burke. No drinking water was impacted.

The investigation is ongoing, and anyone with information on the black pickup truck is urged to contact the Front Royal Police Department, Burke added.

Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department Chief Larry Oliver said crews were initially dispatched for a public service due to suds in Happy Creek.

“We found that there were suds in the creek, and what smelled to be a detergent type of material,” Oliver said. “It went from 5th Street to past Bing Crosby Stadium, and at that point we knew it was already headed toward the Shenandoah River.”

According to Don Kain, water monitoring and assessment manager with the Department of Environmental Quality’s valley regional office, the substance would have been diluted by the time it reached the river, and did not have a substantial impact.

“And the volume of the Shenandoah River is many, many times greater than that of Happy Creek, so any residuals would have been of extremely low concentrations,” Kain said.

Oliver noted the material soon began to dissipate after crews were called to the scene.

“By the time we cleared the incident, the suds and the detergent smell had started to dissipate just by the flow of water down Happy Creek,” he said.

Oliver said dead fish were visible floating in the water, mostly minnows, and he noticed some other dead animals, including a raccoon, on the creek’s bank. Kain said researchers observed dead worms and salamanders, as well.

Everything north of the impacted area, Oliver said, was deemed safe — fish were reportedly acting normal.

Burke said this is the first fish kill he is aware of in Happy Creek.

“In the future, if anyone should witness someone dumping or discharging material either into a storm sewer inlet, creek or river, they are urged to contact the police department,” Burke said.

Anyone with information on the pickup truck can call the Front Royal Police Department at 540-635-2111.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com