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Victoria floats mandate for residential, commercial sewer pipe connection repairs

City looking to solve sewage, stormwater mixing problems exacerbated by heavy rains
The City of Victoria’s sewer lines carry wastewater to the Capital Regional District treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. (Photo courtesy of CRD)

Victoria council has begun discussion on ordering and potentially funding the replacement of wastewater pipes on private property – possibly to the order of tens of thousands of dollars per property – to mitigate excess sewer system water following heavy rain events.

The mixing of stormwater and sewage in Capital Regional District and city pipes, an occurrence called inflow and infiltration, happens when water seeps through cracks in clay sewer pipes installed as long as 100 years ago, or storms drains were incorrectly connected. The city’s sewer system can exceed its total capacity as a consequence, resulting in backflow and causing public health and environmental concerns, according to a report from the engineering and public works department presented to council at its Nov. 25 meeting.

“A good time to be starting this conversation is now, in the context of extreme weather events and a changing climate,” Mayor Lisa Helps said at the meeting.

The first atmospheric river to sweep through B.C. on Nov. 15 saw 72 millimetres of rainfall in some sections of the city. “If we make investments now, it’s going to mean savings in the future,” Helps said.

The CRD’s core area liquid waste management plan also commits Victoria and other participating municipalities to reduce their maximum daily wet-weather flow to less than four times the dry weather average by 2031 – a requirement that implies improvements to inflow and infiltration.

READ ALSO: Atmospheric river behind record rain and flooding in Greater Victoria

The 14,500 pipes branching from the main lines to private buildings, called lateral pipes, make up 45 per cent of Victoria’s sewage system. Maintenance of these 12,450 residential and 1,450 commercial pipes falls to property owners, who often keep the out-of-sight burden out of mind, said Paul Jas, assistant director of engineering.

Making property sales conditional on having lateral pipes inspected – and upgraded if necessary – was one potential solution offered, Jas told council. Requiring plumbing or building permits valued at $25,000 or more to include lateral pipe inspection was also suggested in the report.

“This is not cheap work,” said Nina Sultic-Bata, manager of underground utilities. “We’re talking ten to tens of thousands of dollars (per project)” depending on the age, length and damage of pipes, as well as obstructions like trees or lawn features. More work needs to be done, she said, to determine which laterals need replacement, as opposed to digging up the city’s entire infrastructure.

READ ALSO: Esquimalt to test storm, sewer infrastructure with dye near Gorge waterway

“Without giving the average homeowner a plan for this … there’s going to be grieving and shock recovery time needed in this (decision),” said Coun. Stephen Andrew. “I’d like to see what we can do as a city to mitigate these costs, mitigate the shock and educate. I’m going through my mind thinking, ‘can I afford to do this in the next two years?’” he asked.

Equity considerations should be made when funding the pipe replacement endeavour, Coun. Ben Isitt said.

“Is municipal funding to our most affluent residents (for pipe replacement), which is the 40 per cent fortunate enough to have land registered to their names, a reasonable and equitable allocation of municipal resources?” he asked. “I’m not sure that it is, as someone who sits in that fortunate 40 per cent.”

The report suggested mandating pipe regulations for phase three of the program, leaving the date unspecified, but it could be put in place as late as 2025, Jas said. Isitt made a motion to hasten the process, but no one at the table seconded the motion. According to the report, the availability of contractors to undertake the work was also a consideration towards its timeline.

Council received the report for information and staff will bring back an update at a later date.

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