After sludge, spills, sewage and a fish kill, the long-embattled Stoney Creek got some good news Monday night.
Coquitlam council unanimously approved a new bylaw that would require real-time construction water quality monitoring for all major developments in the area.
The bylaw is “absolutely fantastic news,” said streamkeeper George Kovacic, who lauded mayor, council, city staff, local media as well as the Stoney Creek Environmental Committee for their work.
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“This is a huge step forward to protect Stoney Creek, its wildlife and the community,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for years, my son and I.”
While he supported the new rules, newly-elected Coun. Robert Mazzarolo said he struggled to understand why the program wasn’t being put in place throughout the entire city.
“Why not the whole city right off the start?” Mazzarolo asked.
The city opted to focus on Stoney Creek because of the sheer amount of spills in the waterway. Besides incidents of spewing sewage during heavy rainfall, the city also documented turbidity in the creek. In the span of approximately seven months, the city recorded 106 incidents of turbidity in Stoney Creek compared to 13 in Hoy Creek during the same period.
Those spikes in turbidity and pH could be caused by upstream development, according to a city staff report.
“We shouldn’t have to see damage being caused there . . . in those creeks for us to then implement the system there,” Mazzarolo contended.
Coun. Matt Djonlic made a similar point.
“I would hate to see that we start running into spills in Hoy Creek and regret not putting this in sooner rather than later,” he said.
Given that developers foot the bill for the water monitoring program, Mazzarolo suggested that city-wide implementation would afford Coquitlam an environmental benefit at no cost.
It makes sense to focus on the Stoney Creek area for now, according to Coquitlam’s general manager of engineering and public works Jaime Boan.
“This is essentially a pilot,” Boan told council. “We don’t want to put additional burdens and costs onto development because it all impacts what we’re able to deliver for the community.”
Keeping track of the quality of the water being dumped is estimated to cost about $4,000 per month, per construction site, according to a city staff report. The monitoring would be required whenever the soil is being disturbed or the crew is excavating the site.
The missing Flowlink
Speaking to the Dispatch earlier this year, Flowlink founder and CEO Elena Ranyuk discussed the need for on-site monitoring.
“Construction spills are very easy to prevent,” Ranyuk said. “It’s just not a requirement for all sites. I am not sure why.”
Flowlink has monitored construction sites in Burnaby and Port Moody to keep contaminants from seeping into waterways, often by stopping water from being discharged when pollution is detected.
The city may benefit by being proactive as opposed to reactive, according to Coun. Trish Mandewo.
“The problem with waiting until someone is being non-compliant is the fact that we can miss some instances where there is contamination but we are not there. We can’t be everywhere every day.”
What gets left out
The bylaw wouldn’t apply to the construction of duplexes, multiplexes or demolition. That appears to leave a little wiggle room, according to Coun. Dennis Marsden.
“As a definition, that’s pretty broad and appears somewhat subjective,” he said.
Mazzarolo voiced the same concern, suggesting that some developers might be able to find creative ways to “potentially get around this program.”
The amount of excavation required is a deciding factor, according to city staff. Currently, the largest multiplex in the city’s development pipeline is 12 units – a project that would be excluded from water quality monitoring requirements.
Marsden asked for clarity regarding any future development in the area.
“I want to know where we’re not using this technology.”
The sewage issue
During a heavy rainfall, it’s not unusual to witness sewage overflows 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.
Earlier this year, Oakdale resident Janice McAndrew told council that it’s not unusual for sewage to wash up on her property during a rainfall.
“. . . 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.
While the budget and schedule have yet to be determined, Metro Vancouver is looking to expand the multi-jurisdictional Stoney Creek Sanitary Trunk Sewer. Discussions are ongoing with Coquitlam and Burnaby over possible routes, according to a release from Metro Vancouver.
Looking back, looking ahead
Kovacic talked about the first time his son spotted a sheen of oil on Stoney Creek.
“Because I worked in the energy, oil and gas industry, we’re used to doing due diligence and environmental studies, environmental impact assessments,” he said. “When I saw what was happening in my community, I was just in shock.”
Kovacic and his son Luka chronicled a spill that killed approximately 300 fish in the creek. The father-and-son streamkeepers were recently documented in a short film about their efforts to keep the creek clean.
While Kovacic lauded council’s decision, he also noted that the bylaw is not retroactive.
He asked all developers in the area to add real time water quality monitoring to their construction sites. It would be good for the creek, the salmon and the Nooksack Dace.
“That would show real leadership by those companies,” he said.
Kovacic said he and his son are planning to keep their eyes on Stoney Creek.
“To protect this creek and other creeks in the community is going to take a lot of people . . . but I’m confident we’ve made a huge step forward.”