If it smells like sewage, it probably is. And it was.
Maggy Davidson at Spirit Quest Bookstore and some of her neighbours on Lakeshore Drive have been living with a disgusting odour for months now. It comes and goes, wafting into their stores, making them nauseous, then disappearing.
Davidson says she’s been dealing with it since October, Jacalyn Hays at Bella Interiors noticed it about a year ago.
“I had got in touch with the city a couple of times a year ago about this problem. They passed it off – it’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s your imagination type of thing. It’s been a big problem for a long time and they’ve ignored it, which I find very annoying,” says Hays.
Davidson, too, said city hall’s attitude stunk.
“They’ve been awful to deal with. Inferring I didn’t know what a sewer smell smells like – and it’s true, I don’t spend time crawling around sewers; they inferred my staff didn’t know what it smelled like.”
She said she’s had a plumber to her building four times, and other tradespeople.
“The city said it was a gas leak… so the gas company came with their meters. The city said it’s after burners, you need to get your furnace looked at.”
Finally, she says, the city agreed to flush the storm-sewer lines out front.
“Then the smell was gone, miracle.”
But the problem moved to Hays’ store.
“I guess when they flushed the lines, they sent it down her direction and made her life miserable,” says Davidson. Then it came back Davidson’s way. The smell was so bad, she wondered if some poor unsuspecting fish had made a wrong turn and got lodged in the storm water pipe.
However, last week, action. City staff sniffed out the source of the problem. Dale McTaggart, the city’s director of engineering and public works, told the Observer Friday that by running cameras into both the sanitary and storm sewers, staff discovered that somebody got the pipes mixed up. Sewage has been running into the storm water system while storm water has been funnelled into the sewage pipes.
“I don’t know what happened, but sewer is actually going into the storm sewer from two service connections,” McTaggart said.
Storm water is treated only by catch basins, where debris is trapped so it doesn’t enter the pipes.
“Now the sewage has settled into the catch basins so the odour is getting stronger and stronger and stronger,” he said.
On Monday, crews were on the corner of Lakeshore and Shuswap, digging to fix the problem.
So what does the bypassing of the sewage treatment plant mean for the lake? McTaggart says it’s not a significant problem.
“If any little bit has gone in, it wouldn’t make any difference at all because the lake is just so huge. Now and then we do find these cross-connections that have occurred.”
Storm water comes out at different outfalls along the foreshore, he said. One beside the Prestige Harbourfront Resort, one behind the waste water treatment plant, another one further west by the bus depot, another near Canadian Tire. He believes only small amounts would have gone into the lake.
“Especially in that area it goes into a long, wide foreshore. Waste will then get used up by grasses and plants.”
Both the sewer and storm water pipes are four-inch turquoise PVC pipes.
“Somehow people get these things mixed. They’re both the same size and look the same,” he said, adding he doesn’t know how and when it happened. He said people don’t need plumbing permits if there’s a blockage and they’re digging up a pipe to clear it out.
“We do find them every now and then. More we find them in new buildings. When they connect up in new houses, they can connect them backwards. Everything is marked but when they connect up to the building, they forget which pipe goes where.”
Regarding repairs to Lakeshore by the city, he said the piping wasn’t touched; the asphalt was re-milled and the street repaved. Water pipes, by law, are kept three metres away from the sanitary sewer.
As to why the city didn’t act sooner, McTaggart said, “Our guys went down a couple of times and didn’t notice anything, and then, another day, there it was. It came and went.”
Hays has another theory. She said she finally asked a friend, a man who is retired but used to oversee public works in a Lower Mainland municipality, to contact city hall and tell them what he was certain of – that there was raw sewage in the storm drains.
Explains Hays: “I told him it has to come from a man, and someone with credentials, because no one would listen to us.”
“I know they’re the great white hunters and I’m just a woman, but I really had the feeling I was being dismissed as a hysterical female… I spent a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of money, with my word being discounted by the city, to fix something that apparently has nothing to do with me. Business owners pay an inordinate amount of taxes and to be treated with such contempt – that we have no idea what we’re talking about, and the smell is our imagination. That’s pretty horrible.”
Still, she was thrilled Friday when informed by the newspaper that action was being taken.
“It’s wonderful that it’s actually going to be addressed. It’s not a minute too soon.”