Citizen Science Investigation on East False Creek Reveals Flowing Pipes

Led by our Swimmable Water Specialist, Julie Porter, Fraser Riverkeeper’s Citizen Science Team has been conducting water sampling at several points within False Creek to establish baseline data on recreational water quality and identify pollution hot-spots in downtown Vancouver’s most centralized water body. A report of our findings from this summer is coming out this Fall.

On August 17th, while conducting water quality tests in East False Creek, our team discovered a suspicious, unmarked pipe protruding from the bank just above the waterline. The pipe was spewing brown water directly into False Creek. A follow up visit to this site at low tide on September 2nd revealed not one but three unmarked pipes, all of which appeared to be gushing with contaminated water on hot days when the city had experienced very little rainfall. While the three pipes are known to the City and on their own map drawings, they appear to the public as unmarked.

Our team collected samples from these pipes, which revealed the presence of E. coli concentrations of over 2400 colonies per 100 mL of water, more than double the Health Canada guidelines for secondary contact (paddling) and more than 10 times the guideline for primary contact (swimming). Despite the very high numbers of E.coli present in our samples, the City has informed us that the levels we received were consistent with data they had received from Metro Vancouver.

These findings were immediately reported to the City of Vancouver, who came out to meet us and began to conduct their own investigation. Daniel Roberge, the Director of Water & Sewers Green Infrastructure at the City of Vancouver, in a letter to Fraser Riverkeeper after Julie met with him at the site of the pipes in question, informed us that the pipes are storm drains and not combined sewer outfalls, but that there was "a small chance that an illegal cross-connection has been made" and as such, they were "going to do an investigation to follow up with" our concerns.

What the City of Vancouver is Doing

The City responded swiftly to our finding and are planning on taking their own samples which will be sent to Metro Vancouver's lab for testing. They have let us know they will install investigation chains in three nearby manholes to track whether a pipe is experiencing sanitary sewer outflow, and then follow up that pipe to find its potential source. If they do observe sanitary debris on the chains, a further upcatchment investigation would need to take place, which may include plumbing fixture and service connection investigation. If needed following this process, they could potentially use green dye testing to identify any sanitary discharge are leading to the manholes and outfalls. The city will also investigate an adjacent outflow at Carrall Street.

These outflows serve the Northeast False Creek area of about 35 hectares, and so the City's investigation will take time to complete. We look forward to following up with the city with the findings of their investigation as they demonstrate their commitment to improving water quality in False Creek!

Progress on Swimmable False Creek

As we proposed to the City in our Recommendations on how to get to a Swimmable False Creek, we are heartened to hear that the City has decided to undertake hydraulic modeling in False Creek to better understand how the water moves. Additionally, the City of Vancouver is fully funding a mobile boat pump-out program free to boaters. We have encouraged the city to expand their monitoring program and engage in year-round monitoring, which they say they are "looking into". They will continue the process of sewer separation which is now 50% complete across the city.

While we wait for answers, be sure to send a message to Mayor Gregor Robertson and council via our Swimmable Vancouver campaign, letting them know you want real-time notification of combined sewer overflows in Metro Vancouver: this includes physical signage and digital notices of CSOs and wet weather advisories.

We look forward to the City's progress investigating the pipes in question and E.coli contamination.

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