A one-kilometre section of pipe has the potential to cause “dire environmental consequences,” according to Mission Mayor Randy Hawes.
The pipe carries Mission’s sewage from the city, across the Fraser River and into the JAMES Treatment plant in Abbotsford.
It is the only line that carries waste away from Mission to be treated.
“Every house on the district’s sewer system has its waste go through the line. That’s the majority of the population,” said Hawes.
The pipe, which is constantly under pressure and buried in the sand under the Fraser River, is more than 30 years old.
Constructed in 1983, the sewage pipe is only at the halfway point of its expected lifespan. However, there is no way to be sure.
Hawes said all pipes degenerate over time, but because this pipe is under water and is a pressurized line, crews are unable to test it to find out what condition it’s in.
“We simply don’t know.”
Regular lines flow by gravity, but this line has to have the sewage pumped through. Because of that, no cameras can go through the line to check its condition.
“If that line has deteriorated significantly and is under pressure, it’s possible that it could blow. If it blows, I don’t have to explain too much,” said Hawes.
He fears that an “unwanted fountain” of sewage would arise from the river and send a “very unwanted gift” to Maple Ridge and then Surrey and Richmond.
“We can’t stop the pressure in the line because thousands of people are plugged into it. We can’t ask people to not flush toilets, not take showers, not run the sink.
“The flow will keep coming. There is no way to stop it.”
And if the worst does happen, Hawes said there is no emergency quick fix to stop the flow from spilling into the river.
“You can’t put it in a pit and hold it temporarily.”
Fixing a potential leak would be costly and time-consuming, the mayor said.
He believes the best solution is the creation of a second pipe. That way, the sewage could be transferred to the new pipeline and the old one could be checked for cracks and repaired if needed. It would also provide some redundancy to protect against possible future leakage due to deterioration.
However, creating a second sewage line under the river comes with an $8 million price tag.
The district has applied to the provincial and federal governments for an infrastructure grant to help pay for the second line, but Hawes is concerned, because they applied last year and the project was turned down.
“People need to understand what could happen, how dangerous this is today. This one has such dire environmental consequences if not addressed now. It has to be moved up on the priority list.”
If the problem is not fixed, he fears the line could spew sewage for weeks, if not months.
“If it’s not addressed, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Hawes, adding that eventually the pipe will fail, and waiting is a gamble.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said he has examined Mission’s grant request for the $8.6 million Fraser River Crossing Sanitary Sewer Siphon Project and spoken to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development about the need.
He has also looked at a second grant request from the district, a $15.5 million project to purchase and install water metres.
“Of the two, probably more immediate is the pipe,” said Dalton about the requests, adding the ministry has received 200 applications for projects.
Dalton said he is trying to make the case that the new sewer pipe is important for the community.
“It has, according to the city, about four of five more years left,” he explained, and as Mission keeps growing, the old pipe may not have the capacity to keep up.
About the proposed project:
- Mission discharges its wastewater to the Joint Abbotsford Mission Environmental Systems (JAMES) plant through a 60 cm river-crossing pipe for treatment.
- The existing river crossing is a pressurized pipe that lies at the Fraser River bed and was built in 1983.
- The proposed new project would allow the installation of approximately 2,410 metres of a 75 or 90 cm pipe from Mission to the JAMES waste water treatment plant, of which 950 metres of it will be in a dredged trench on the bottom of the Fraser River close to the existing siphon.
- The increase in capacity of the sanitary trunk system would allow for further development within Mission, and also reduce the environmental risk of the existing pipe.
- Big cracks or broken pieces on this pipe would cause huge volume of raw sewage to discharge into the Fraser River.
- The current estimated total cost of this project is $8.6 million of which $8.3 million is eligible for “Clean Water and Wastewater Fund” (CWWF) contribution. CWWF would potentially contribute up to 83% of the costs (50% federal, 33% provincial, 17% District).