This topic is under the radar which is probably why most people are not more indignant that in a city that prides itself on being green, sustainable, bikeable and smart we have a very very dirty secret~we don’t separate out our liquid garbage.
Think of it~we separate green waste from garbage, we compost what we can, and we are all educated on what to put in the blue recycling box. But few people know what the implications of a combined storm and sanitary sewer are to the environment. It just sounds like something that is mundane and boringly municipal. But what it really means is that when a combined sewer overflows, it is spilling untreated excrement into Vancouver’s surrounding water sources.
When I worked as the health planner for Dr. John Blatherwick the City’s Medical Health Officer, the separation of the combined sewer system was the first thing to be further delayed in any civic budget process. Back in the 1980’s it was assumed that the entire city would be under a separated sewer program by 2020. But in checking on the city’s website that goal has been pushed back thirty years with “We are working toward the Province of BC’s environmental goal to eliminate sewage overflows by 2050″.
When beaches are closed due to high coliform counts there is a public level of indignation that we need to do something to stop that. And there is-by finishing up the installation of a separated storm and wastewater sewage system that keeps getting delayed for other priorities.
While some of the city has separated storm and wastewater sewers, the parts that don’t have catchment water and liquid waste travel to the sewage treatment plant in one sewer. If there is a big rain event, stormwater can overwhelm that single pipe system, which means that untreated excrement overflows into water sources like False Creek.
As reported by Global News Park Board Commissioner John Coupar and City Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung both tabled motions for the city to get serious about fecal waste outfall and to set up a ten year deadline to install sewer separation universally across the city
Councillor Kirby-Yung pointed out that 674,000 cubic meters of raw sewage ended up in False Creek from just one of the five overflow outlets the combined sewer has in the creek. As John Couper observed : “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. On the present timeline, we won’t even make it by 2050.”
In a city that is densifying the beaches and waterfront areas should be a public amenity for everyone to enjoy.
As Coupar bluntly concludes: “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.We’re such a water-based city … and it’s time we have a hard look on this to see what we can change.”
How do we make this important priority matter?
From the City of Vancouver here is the list of which neighbourhoods have the separated sewer system, and which neighbourhoods will get this system by 2020. Note that Dunbar, Kerrisdale and Sunset are some of the neighbourhoods not yet scheduled.
From the City of Vancouver: we have a separated sewer system in the following areas:
- West End
- Mt. Pleasant
- Burrard Inlet and Fraser River shorelines
By 2020, we plan to install separated sewers in:
- Point Grey
Images: Cdn20 & FastCompany