Stormwater running off the demolition site of the University of Virginia’s University Hall polluted the waters of Meadow Creek this week and killed hundreds of fish in the stream, according to state and local officials.
There was no impact to the city’s drinking water system, officials said. Meadow Creek does not feed into the drinking water reservoirs.
Investigators from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, with assistance from staff at UVa and the city of Charlottesville, determined a pit at the site filled with rainwater and was pumped into a storm drain, killing the fish found floating downstream at Meadow Creek Gardens Park.
“The source of Thursday’s fish kill was the result of a contaminated construction pit that flowed into a stormwater system drain located near Massie Road,” officials said in a statement. “Specifically, the source of the contamination was found to be a construction pit on the former U-Hall site where rainwater had mixed with concrete dust and had been pumped into drain lines.”
The statement was released after normal business hours Friday afternoon and officials could not be reached for further comment.
In the statement, UVa officials indicated that the drain line has since been blocked and that construction crews will “clear any lines that may have contaminant in them and will no longer pump water out of the pit into the storm drain.”
Investigators tested water at both the park site and in the area of John Paul Jones Arena, near the pollution’s point of entry.
“This testing showed very high pH and conductivity levels in Meadow Creek in the vicinity of the John Paul Jones Arena, but relatively normal levels in the Meadow Creek Gardens Park,” the statement reads.
According to the DEQ, concrete dust and debris contains lime that can increase the alkalinity of water to a pH as high as 13. Scholastic texts indicate that normal water pH levels are about 6.5 to 8. They list liquid drain cleaner as having a pH level of 14 and bleach at about 13.5.
High alkaline content in water burns the bodies, gills, eyes and organs of fish in much the same way as would highly acidic water, according to the DEQ.
“The recent abundance of rain in the area has helped flush out the contamination, however, avoiding contact with the water in that area is still highly recommended until further notice,” the joint statement reads. “Subsequent testing will occur over the next few days.”
Meadow Creek’s headwaters are on Observatory Hill on university property. The creek enters a stormwater sewer system to flow under the UVa Facilities Management complex to just east of Alderman Road, according to the university’s watershed management plan.
In 2003, the stream was returned to a natural state between Alderman Road and Emmet Street. It flows into a retention pond and then into a pipe to go under Emmet Street. It opens up again near Barracks Road.