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Chemically treated water still leaking at Abbotsford prison, says engineer

Worker says almost 9 million litres have leaked since investigation into Matsqui complex
An engineer who works at the central heating plant at the Matsqui prison complex in Abbotsford is concerned about the potential environmental risks to nearby farms from an ongoing leak of chemically treated water. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Almost nine million litres of chemically treated water has been leaked at an Abbotsford prison complex since an investigation into the matter concluded that the problem had been fixed in 2021, says the engineer who first reported the issue to authorities.

Dan Fowle, who was contacted by The Abbotsford News after family members reached out to a reporter, said he is worried about the impacts on farms adjacent to Matsqui prison complex.

“My only concern – and I’m not joking – is every day where I park and where I sit on my break, I’m looking at these farms with a creek running through them, and I know we’re dumping an average of about 10,000 litres a day of (chemically treated water) into the ground,” he said.

“ … I am concerned about the safety of the public … That creek feeds those berries, and they’re going to be harvested in three months. People are going to eat this stuff, and the report said they halted testing.”

Fowle, a power engineer, confirmed he is one of the engineers referenced in the report tabled March 19 in Parliament and released publicly on March 20 by the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC).

The report concluded that management at Matsqui prison complex had committed “gross mismanagement” when they failed to adequately respond to a serious leak, resulting in millions of litres of chemically treated water leaching chemicals into the soil for almost four years (from 2017-21).

RELATED: Leak at Abbotsford prison complex leached chemicals for 4 years, says report

The plant supplies hot water for the complex – which houses more than 1,070 inmates – as well as for domestic use. (The site consists of Matsqui Institution, Pacific Institution and the Fraser Valley Institution for Women.)

The plant carries hot water through an underground piping system that is located four to five feet below ground level.

A “substantial leak” in the system was first reported by the central heating plant engineers to Correction Service Canada (CSC) management in 2017, with recommendations to excavate the system to locate the leak.

According to the PSIC report, that step was not taken until May 2021. The report states the leak was then “fully repaired.”

But Fowle told The Abbotsford News on Monday (April 8) that there have been ongoing leaks since that time due to aging pipes he says should be replaced. In the first week of April alone, he said another 70,000 litres of water was recorded as having leaked from the system.

Since July 2021, records indicate that almost nine million litres of water has leaked, Fowle said.

He said he has contacted authorities again, with no success, and he has come forward publicly because he does not want to wait another two or three years for the matter to be properly addressed.

“My primary concern is this leak and just warning those farms and the public,” he said.

The Abbotsford News contacted CSC for comment on the ongoing leaks, but the agency’s response did not address that specifically, instead referring The News to the PSIC report.

CSC’s response was incorporated in the report, including that “environmental protection is a high priority” for the agency and that they have worked with environmental experts to test for contamination.

“After the pipes were repaired in 2021, independent external consultants conducted a new assessment for contamination in the groundwater to ensure that potential environmental risks and liabilities were properly addressed,” the CSC stated.

“Their 2022 report concluded that there was no contamination and recommended that further assessment due to highly diluted rust inhibitors leaking from the heat distribution pipes is not required.”

The CSC said in the report that Public Service and Procurement Canada confirmed in February 2024 that the site is currently deemed a “low priority for action.”

Meanwhile, the PSIC said it does a follow-up after six months with impacted organizations regarding recommendations in a report. In the case of the Matsqui prison complex, the PSIC said the follow-up will occur in September 2024, with the resulting report being available in June 2025 as part of the annual report for the fiscal year 2024-25.

A spokesperson said privacy laws prohibit the PSIC from providing information about active investigations.

Matsqui Prison in Abbotsford. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)