BP diesel spill leaks into Catfish Creek, cleanup underway

Published: Aug. 7, 2018 at 8:13 PM CDT
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Cleanup is underway across Dubuque County after a leak from a large diesel storage tank. Authorities said it could take weeks or even months to clean up.

The leak happened at a BP storage facility off Old Highway Road near Peosta. Staff members with the Iowa DNR say BP was able to contain most of the leak, but more than 20,000 gallons may have spilled out into a nearby creek.

The leak came from one of the storage tanks, which can hold 2.5 million gallons of diesel at a time.

Tom McCarthy, an environmental specialist with the Iowa DNR, confirmed to TV9 that 20,500 gallons was unaccounted for when they were notified of the spill.

"They've contained most of the spill on site. Some of the spill did go into Catfish Creek," McCarthy said.

Catfish Creek covers 57 square miles across Dubuque County, and is a well-protected watershed by multiple groups- including the Catfish Creek Watershed Management Authority. Both Eric Schmechel and Dean Mattoon serve as administrators for the group, and until TV9 contacted them, they were unaware of the spill. Both expressed concern with how the spill will affect the creek.

McCarthy explained the cleanup process includes five "boom sites" that control the flow of the water on the creek, as well as collect the diesel on the surface of the water into storage units without getting waterlogged. From there, the diesel is put into tanks.

But many, like Schmecel and Mattoon, are concerned about the environmental impact the diesel spill could have on the area.

"[It] could affect mainly birds and mammals," McCarthy said. "We don't see a lot of impact from diesel spills into streams on the fish. But we're just looking to make sure that everything's cleaned up."

But that does not coincide with a similar, but smaller-scale incident members of the Dubuque County Conservation Board have experienced in the past.

Executive Director Brian Preston said in the past they discovered a diesel spill in a nearby trout stream when people tasted something weird-- and it was not 'fishy.'

"The folks called us and report that their trout tasted like diesel fuel," Preston said. "We found that really odd."

Preston said upon investigation, there was diesel in the stream, which took a while for them to clean up. But he said the lasting effects could be on how long it takes before the fish and the rest of the creek are able to get back to normal.

"I think it'll take a couple weeks or months for the diesel to pass through their system," Preston said.

In the meantime, Preston urged visitors to find other plans and stay out of the water in those areas, at least until cleanup is complete. He said there are plenty of other unaffected areas along the creek people can fish and spend time in.

As far as a timeline on how long the cleanup will take, McCarthy said he was still uncertain.

"The cleanup's going to take some time," McCarthy said.