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Questions arise after two sewer leaks in three days in False Creek

Both leaks appear to have happened to pipes installed in 1999 as city crews figure out the cause

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On Sunday morning, city crews and contractors were managing the second sewer main break around False Creek in three days.

The second leak happened Saturday just outside the Main Street-Science World SkyTrain station on Terminal Avenue, between Quebec Street and Main Street. City workers and contractors were onsite, collecting effluent from a leaking sewer main in large trucks before it could flow into a nearby storm drain leading to False Creek.

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Staff onsite told Postmedia the leak was contained and another collector vehicle was being sent as backup to protect against effluent reaching the storm drain with a king tide expected overnight.

Work was still underway to determine the cause of the leak, according to a statement from the City of Vancouver.

“City crews are working closely with Metro Vancouver and the VPD to prepare to mobilize for repairs beginning this week, once the assessment is complete,” read the statement. “Once plans for the week are confirmed, we will provide further updates.”

The first leak happened on Thursday, when a pipe burst on Columbia Street just north of West Second in Vancouver. The incident had closed nearby roads “due to health and environmental concerns.”

vancouver sewer leak
Workers on the scene of a sewer leak on Columbia Street in Vancouver on June 20, 2024. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Both leaks appear to have happened to pipes installed in 1999, according to city data, making them about 25 years old. The typical lifespan of sewer pipes is 50 to 100 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The owner of a small convenience store outside the Main Street-Science World SkyTrain station said the smell on Saturday morning was terrible but said there were no issues on Sunday.

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Outside Science World, occasional whiffs of sewage that spilled into False Creek from Thursday’s sewer main leak drifted across crowds of spectators and competitors at this year’s Dragon boat Festival.

It didn’t appear to dampen the mood.

Competitors rinse off at washing stations setup by organizers of the 2024 Dragon Boat Festival after effluent from a broken sewer main spilled into False Creek days before the event.
Competitors rinse off at washing stations set up by organizers of the 2024 Dragon Boat Festival after effluent from a broken sewer main spilled into False Creek days before the event. Photo by Nathan Griffiths /PNG

“I don’t find (the smell) that bad,” said Linda Mah, a member of the Century Dragons senior women’s dragon boat team. “It’s actually worse on land than on the water.”

Mah and another team member said that while it was impossible not to get splashed while competing, organizers had installed washing stations for competitors to use after each race. They were a little uncomfortable about the additional sewage in the water but didn’t support cancelling the race, noting it is one of the most important races of the year with competitors coming to Vancouver from across the globe.

Even before Thursday’s leak, False Creek’s water quality was considered “not suitable for swimming,” according to Vancouver Coastal Health. Boating and other “secondary contact activities” are allowable but VCH recommends people using the water wash or shower afterwards.

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