The pungent odour of sewage that wafted through Cordova Bay Wednesday morning was the only notification residents had that a large underground pipe had burst nearby leaking an estimated 30,000 litres of sewage into their neighbourhood.
The PVC pipe, roughly 4.5 metres underground, was found broken around 9:30 a.m., March 21 – much to the surprise of Saanich’s engineering department.
“The main was just beyond 30 years old. We would still expect that to have a lot of useful life left in it,” said Colin Doyle, director of engineering.
The break came to Saanich’s attention when an engineering employee arrived on site to do maintenance and saw “the water start to boil out of the ground,” according to manager of public works, Mike Ippen.
Crews worked until 4 a.m. Thursday to repair and replace the ruptured pipe, a few metres west of the Haliburton pump station, on Halburton Road at Lochside Drive.
“Everything is now back in operation and functioning,” Doyle said Thursday morning.
An investigation into what caused the 16-inch-diameter pipe to break will be held.
No homeowners lost service, and trucks were brought in to collect the flowing effluent, and shuttle it to a functioning pump station elsewhere.
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that she was upset Saanich didn’t notify neighbours about the spill, or the fact that the effluent leaked down to the beach.
“They forgot about us. … We are important. We are your taxpayers here,” she said. “Why didn’t they send a volunteer to knock on doors, or put things on doors. There’s ways of communicating.”
Doyle says there is no formal notification process when engineering is out making emergency repairs.
“We usually don’t go out and do a notice when we’re trying to repair something urgently,” he said.
Ippen says most of the sewage that leaked ended up in nearby storm drains, and flowed out into Cordova Bay. Very little sewage, he said, leaked onto the land near the beach. Signs were posted warning beach-users about the spill.
Vancouver Island Health Authority spokesperson Shannon Marshall says environmental health officers continue to monitor the situation, and the beach will remain closed until water samples come back clean.
“The beach area affected is not a public beach. … Our EHO assessment indicates that the contaminated beach area is well marked with yellow tape and advisory signs,” Marshall wrote in an email.
A spokesperson with the provincial Ministry of Environment’s environmental emergency program says they are monitoring Saanich’s cleanup and mitigation efforts. Saanich’s manager of environmental services could not be reached for comment.
“We don’t know whether we can use this beach for the summer. Will we have to wait a week? A month? What has happened to the little otters? What has happened to the seals? What’s happened to the birds?” the Cordova Bay resident said.
“There’s all sorts of different ways to give information (to residents), none of which were done. If there isn’t a procedure’s manual, there should be one written pretty soon,” she added.
By Thursday morning, the replacement pipe had been installed and buried. Saanich crews remained on scene to conduct clean-up.
The cost of the incident is still unknown.