The Gorge Waterway was contaminated this past summer from septic tanks that spilled into Esquimalt’s storm water drains. The Township is beginning to address its options for preventing sewage and storm water lines from co-mingling. News files

Fixing Esquimalt’s sewage, storm drain cross contamination could cost millions

Property owners and municipality expected to share costs of solution

An estimated 400 homes may have sanitary services connected to storm drains in Esquimalt, and that could mean a big bill for the municipality and its taxpayers.

The cost of separating the two systems is being estimated at between $3 million and $13 million.

Having dealt with contamination of the Gorge Waterway this summer, the Township is trying to pinpoint which homes have household sewage lines crossed with storm water mains.

Esquimalt council heard earlier this month that work is required to correct such instances, as well as determine where sewage lines have failed and where existing storm drains do not extend the entire length of the road, a situation that can see runoff from perimeter drains find its way into the sewage lines.

Based on the municipality’s smoke testing nearly 10 years ago – smoke-filled air blown through the sanitary sewer lines identifies leaks – 407 instances were found where sanitary services might be connected to storm drains. The recent staff report stated that it would take upwards of 20 years to fix all the connections if Township staff alone do the work; eight years if the work were contracted out.

During discussions, councillors indicated the cost would be split between the municipality and property owners, rather than either bearing the full financial burden.

RELATED: Gorge Creek contamination caused by septic tank dumping

Fixing connections on Gosper Crescent was given as an example, as staff investigated the area following the Gorge Waterway spill.

Four homes on the street were found to have cross connections or failing service lines, which would cost an estimated $104,000 to fix pipes on both public and private property. In a 75/25 split of the costs with the Township covering the larger amount, homeowners would pay around $5,000 each, or $10,000 per home in a 50/50 share model.

Coun. Lynda Hundleby was in favour of a cost-splitting model, but acknowledged that paying for it may be difficult for some residents.

“I feel for the homeowners on fixed incomes, or who have income where they’re just meeting their needs, and then to add this to it,” she said. “But I do feel that we need to fix the storm sewer issues, because they’re just going to keep coming back to us if we don’t.”

Coun. Meagan Brame said she would have a difficult time making residents pay a large portion of the cost, particularly when they may not be responsible for the problem.

“These should have been caught in inspection times,” she said. “Some of the lines don’t go far enough down the street. Again, not a resident’s fault.”

RELATED: Gorge Swim Fest cancelled due to sewage spill

Mayor Barb Desjardins said the Township should allocate the annual $55,000 contribution from the Capital Regional District for wastewater treatment to cover a portion of the bill.

Other scenarios were presented at significantly lower costs. Extending storm collection mains into cul-de-sacs and to homes where there is no existing storm water collection would cost $3 million, while fixing only the public portion of the pipes connected to the 400 homes would cost $2 million.

Updating the network would also reduce the amount of waste water sent to the sewage treatment plant, potentially lowering property owners’ land taxes and the CRD allotment in the long term, but at a significant up front expense.

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