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Vancouver seeks fix to boaters dumping sewage in False Creek

If approved, the city would revamp bylaws and set up a pilot project providing boaters with a mobile pump-out service in False Creek.

A water taxi passes by a marina and downtown condos while traveling on False Creek in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday February 11, 2015.


A water taxi passes by a marina and downtown condos while traveling on False Creek in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday February 11, 2015.

If False Creek boaters won’t go to the pumping station to get rid of their sewage, the City of Vancouver wants to bring the pumping station to them.

City staff are presenting to council on Tuesday a proposal for a pilot project that would see a mobile pump-out service make the rounds at local marinas and moored vessels to make sure they’re not dumping their waste into open waters.

The proposal, along with new bylaw amendments and enforcement measures, comes after years of concern about the amount of E. coli in the water at False Creek and its neighbouring beaches, especially in the heat of summer.

“It’s basically a boat with a very large tank in it that would travel around the marinas and the moored boats and would pump directly into that storage tank,” said Jennifer Mayberry, the city’s manager of environmental services. “Boats then don’t need to dock at a pumping station or need to go through that. The pump-out comes to them.”

Mayberry said there currently isn’t a mobile pump-out service in Vancouver.

One company tried several years ago but “not with much success,” she said, while municipalities in Washington State fund their own mobile services.

“It’s something that seems quite common south of the border,” said Mayberry.

If approved, the mobile service and an audit to determine which boats are dumping raw sewage in the creek would cost approximately $75,000.

The mobile pump-out service would run until September.

The city has worried about E. coli contamination in local waters for years, but only last year were able to narrow down boaters as the main source of the problem.

“Was it boats? Was it cross-connections from sewers? Urban run-offs from farming? Dog waste?” asked Mayberry.

The city’s engineering department undertook a mayor revamp of sewer cross connections in 2015 and Mayberry said sewer overflows don’t typically occur in the summer.

A University of British Columbia researcher, along with the results of a city audit of local marinas and boats, confirmed the vessels are largely to blame.

The city report also notes that – because of Vancouver’s unaffordability crisis – more people that even are living on boats.

“All signs seem to point at boats, whether they’re at open moorage or at marinas,” said Mayberry. “Obviously the intent of this report is to improve sewer management options and the culture around that, as well as our enforcement of the new proposed bylaws.”

Currently, existing marinas are not required to have pump-out stations on site while new ones do.

The city wants to change its bylaws to make those services a condition of business license renewals going forward.

Boaters find the services currently available inadequate and not worth the hassle, said Mayberry.

“We did a boater survey in March and the feedback that we got is that the existing facilities are inadequate, whether it’s the number of them available or accessibility,” said Mayberry. “It seems that people for the most part are aware they’re not supposed to be discharging, it’s just a matter of it not being easy to do and it’s known there is no enforcement of existing regulations.”

Swimming in False Creek is not permitted but it is used extensively for recreation like paddling.

When E. coli levels get too high (200 E. coli/100ml for primary recreational uses like swimming and 1,000 for secondary uses) as stipulated by Health Canada, the city must implement swimming closures and advise users to take extra precautions on the water.

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