Esquimalt has been addressing crossed sewage and storm pipes on public property in the municipality for years, but more than half the problems will need to be addressed by private property owners.
According to a staff report released in December this month, both public and private pipes contribute equally to inflow and infiltration problems, and 55 per cent of the length of Esquimalt sewers are on private property. Smoke testing completed almost ten years ago – where smoke-filled air is blown through the sanitary sewer lines to identify leaks – found approximately 400 potential sanitary-storm mains on private properties, an issue that was recently revealed could result in residents footing a multi-million-dollar bill to fix it.
While this is not the only municipality facing sewage problems, Mayor Barb Desjardins said she believes the Township is being proactive, and that hers is the first that is “looking at this seriously,” that being addressing line crosses on private property. The Township began investigating Esquimalt’s sewers and addressing issues in public spaces earlier. From 2005 to 2009, they relined municipal mains, upgraded pump stations, separated manholes, installed a portable pump station in the case of a power outage, and conducted smoke testing for the entire collection system.
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Esquimalt isn’t the first to address sewage problems on private property. Oak Bay has been mandated to update its sanitary systems to separate sanitary and stormwater flows for some 600 homes in the Uplands neighbourhood, and is already moving forward with installing this system in phases over the next 20 years.
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But for some residents, like Sean MacÚisdin, he doesn’t think the focus on Esquimalt sewage problems seems fair when other municipalities are facing similar issues.
“It often feels like Esquimalt is a whipping boy for regional issues,” he said. “Instead of focusing on a municipality, focus on the issue itself, which is old infrastructure.”
MacÚisdin said the area’s cross-contamination problems are significant, but unless people are willing to foot significant tax increases or take service cuts, progress will be slow and steady. As a homeowner, he accepts that he may have to foot part of the bill.
“In the end, as a homeowner I have to plan for these things. I would hope that I could work with the municipality and make it not sting quite as much, but ultimately it does have to be done,” he said.
As to who would foot the bill, and the eight to 20 years it could take to complete, he said there needs to be a balanced approach in addressing the sanitation issues and cost to fix them.
“If the municipality’s going to turn around tomorrow and say either we’re going to jack up property taxes or cut services and get this done as soon as possible… in any municipality that would raise a lot of questions.”
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The smoke testing also found 63 storm services connected to sanitary, and 111 combined manholes. From 2010 to 2015, 47 catch basins were disconnected from sanitary mains or confirmed they were connected to the storm drain system. In that same period, the Township dye-tested five homes, and separated 84 combined manholes.