May 1, 2017 8:32 am

City of Vancouver addresses issue of raw sewage in False Creek

ABOVE: We’re always hearing how tough it is to buy a house in Vancouver. But now there’s an unexpected side effect. As more people are choosing to live in boats full time, there are more sewage and e-coli issues in areas like False Creek. Kristen Robinson reports.

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Some 10,000 recreational paddlers enjoy False Creek every year but a dirty secret is lurking beneath the surface of Vancouver’s water playground.

“Most of the boaters are very responsible. It’s just the one or two that come in and I guess they don’t care,” said Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society general manager Ann Phelps.

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Phelps is referring to rogue liveaboard or transient boaters who dump their raw sewage in False Creek. “E.coli just gets introduced into the system and it multiplies and then it’s just a perfect storm,” she said.

After unusually high E. coli counts in August 2014 and April to July of 2015 sparked swimming bans and threatened dragon boaters, the city of Vancouver created the False Creek Water Quality Working Group with representatives from the Park Board, Vancouver Coastal Health, Metro Vancouver, Transport Canada, the Port of Vancouver and the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

In June 2015, Vancouver Park Board commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung also brought a motion forward that launched an awareness campaign that included offering free pump-outs for recreational boaters at civic marinas in False Creek.

Now, an administrative report titled ‘Update on Protecting Vancouver’s Recreational Water Quality’ states that “the affordable housing crisis in Vancouver appears to have resulted in more residents living on vessels, full-time” and recommends the city conduct a pilot program this summer to provide mobile sewage pump-out services in False Creek. The staff report also proposes the city retain someone to conduct an audit of boats to identify those discharging sewage waste improperly with the goal of enforcing the regulations “through escalation from education and warnings by the VPD Marine Unit and City’s Environmental Protection Officers to commencing prosecutions.”

Since Transport Canada is the regulatory body and has jurisdiction for the waterway, the city cannot fine offending boaters.

Many paddlers told Global News they embraced the proposal, while others say False Creek’s combined sewer overflow is just as much to blame for the polluted waters. During periods of heavy rain, the antiquated system causes the water outflow below Science World to release untreated sewage.

“It’s great to take these steps but I think we need to look at the bigger picture. I mean, we are fortunate to live in we say one of the most spectacular cities. We’ve got a beautiful coastal location but I’m not sure that we can honestly say it’s clean and green,” said Kirby-Yung.

The city is working to eliminate sewage overflows by 2050 through new separated sewer system construction. The latest ideas being floated to flush out False Creek would cost an estimated $75,000 and be funded from existing budgets.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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