City, park board to debate speeding up overhaul of Vancouver’s sewer system

A sewer upgrade infrastructure project, Vancouver, June 2, 2015.
A sewer upgrade infrastructure project, Vancouver, June 2, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

Vancouver’s sewer system needs a major overhaul sooner rather than later, a city councillor and park board commissioner argue.

Council and the park board are set to debate identical motions at their meetings this week seeking to set a 10-year timeline to address sewer separation across the city.

Monday’s motion from park board commissioner John Coupar calls on the city to accelerate its timeline for the project and write to all levels of government to secure funding.

READ MORE: Vancouver Park Board to consider West End beach overhaul after earlier confusion

On Tuesday, that motion will be answered by Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung’s own request directing staff to explore the feasibility of that 10-year plan, including potential costs and funding opportunities.

Coupar said he’s hopeful he and Kirby-Yung can work together to get staff moving — followed soon by city crews.

Story continues below advertisement

“It will be an expensive project, but … I think not enough people are aware of how much this is needed,” Coupar said Sunday.

WATCH: (Aired Jan. 23) Sewer plans for Okanagan community revealed

Sewer plans for Swan Lake area revealed at open house
Sewer plans for Swan Lake area revealed at open house

Right now, Vancouver largely runs on a system that combines groundwater, rainwater and raw sewage through single pipes, the bulk of which date back to the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

Both motions point out the city’s plan to replace combined sewer systems with separated systems is based on a provincial environmental goal to achieve that replacement by 2050.

By that time, Coupar and Kirby-Yung say, Metro Vancouver’s population is expected to increase by roughly 1 million people.

READ MORE: Ambleside joins growing list of beaches closed due to high E. coli levels

Story continues below advertisement
“Presently we’re [replacing about] 0.6 per cent of the system every year, and right now 50 per cent of the city is separated,” Coupar said. “On the present timeline, we won’t even make it by 2050.”

The main concern is the continued overflowing from rainstorms that discharge untreated waste into the city’s waterways and beaches, where several overflow outfalls are installed.

That system has been blamed for a regular appearance of E. coli in the waters off Sunset Beach and other city beaches in the summer, prompting closures to swimmers.

READ MORE: Sunset Beach closed to swimming due to high E. coli levels

According to Kirby-Yung’s motion, almost 674,000 cubic metres of raw sewage ended up in False Creek last year from just one of its five overflows.

Coupar said that with plans to update and modernize the West End beaches and waterfront areas over the next decade, the sewer system should be a priority.

Story continues below advertisement

“I think it’s pretty bad in 2019, especially for a city that considers itself green, that we can’t protect the city’s water more,” he said.

“We’re such a water-based city … and it’s time we have a hard look on this to see what we can change.”

—With files from Robyn Crawford