Janice McAndrew has a sewage line running through a right-of-way underneath her property just east of North Road. When it rains, she frequently has sewage on her property.
“This issue needs to be addressed on many fronts and just because I don’t send you an email on it every time it rains doesn’t mean that I am not losing sleep over it every night,” McAndrew wrote to Coquitlam city council.
McAndrew sent the letter after Coquitlam council received a staff report that delved into the cause of the repeated sewage overflows around Stoney Creek in the Oakdale neighbourhood.
The crux of the problem is old sewage pipes being infiltrated and overwhelmed with stormwater, resulting in regular incidents of bubbling sewage. That problem can be exacerbated by snowmelt as well as extreme weather connected to climate change, according to a city staff report.
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At its peak, the amount of stormwater entering the sewer is between five and seven times greater than the rate of sanitary sewage flows, or “equivalent to the household flow from more than 30,000 people.”
After multiple incidents of bubbling sewage sliding into Stoney Creek – which is home to chum, coho and Nooksack Dace – Coquitlam upgraded sewer capacity around North Road. However, that work ended up showing the capacity problems is outside the city’s jurisdiction, explained Coquitlam’s director of utilities Jonathan Helmus.
That capacity issue sometimes results in Metro Vancouver’s sewer trunk main causing back-ups in Coquitlam’s sewer system.
But while Metro Vancouver is planning to expand the capacity of the trunk sewer both the budget and schedule have yet to be determined, according to a statement from Metro Vancouver.
Discussions are being held to assess possible routes to determine: “the most cost effective and least disruptive option,” according to Rick Gallilee, director of strategic initiatives with liquid waste services at Metro Vancouver
The overflows could also be reduced by diverting flow to adjacent trunk sewer systems, according to Metro Vancouver.
Residents should at least have a timetable for improvements, contended McAndrew.
“We should be given some idea of when it will be resolved and how in the short-term changes to the volume of sewage in the lines will be reduced or minimize until such a time that the long-term fix can be implemented. And I think that diversion and not adding units to the system should be considered just as much as fixing cross-connections, as those may be more impactful,” she wrote.
The impact of development
The city is taking all feasible action possible, according to the city’s GM of engineering and public works Jaime Boan.
“Coquitlam is actually doing very well compared to most of the region,” Boan told council.
Only one percent of Coquitlam’s sewer system has high levels of inflow and infiltration, according to Boan.
While adding development to the area results in more sewage, it also means sturdier pipes and less stormwater flooding the system, he added.
“With new development, pipes are replaced, onsite issues are eliminated,” Boan said.
Currently, most of the stormwater is seeping into the sewer system through cracks in underground piping on private property, as well as inflows from gutter downspouts, foundation drains, and sump pumps located on private property that have been improperly or illegally connected to the municipal sewer systems, according to Gallilee.
So far, five cross-connections have been found and resolved, according to the Coquitlam staff report.
However, that report fails to explains the effect of resolving those five cross-connections, McAndrew wrote.
“The report is putting the problem and potentially costs onto the shoulders of the property owners but, not quantifying the impact that fixing these had on the volume – similarly it doesn’t quantify the impact that any of the work on the city’s pipes have had on the problem,” McAndrew wrote.
The sewage problem has had a significant impact on neighbourhood properties, McAndrew emphasized.
“I don’t think I should have to pay for sewer until it stops running across my property,” she concluded.