Almost 3 decades to do 'urgent' repairs on water mains: city
It’s going to take almost three decades to fix the worst of the aging municipal water pipes at current rates – meaning residents may have to expect more burst pipes like the one in East Vancouver, city officials say.
That’s where a two-week old trickle from a leaky water main turned into a flood, spreading debris as a torrent gushed down Lakewood Drive and Adanac Street, and flooding at least one home.
“I said, 'Oh, what’s this?'” said Tino De Resendes, who has lived with his wife in the neighbourhood for 50 years, and never seen so much water in their basement.
“I wanted to open the door, but I was scared. Finally I got mad and I opened it up. Oh, lots of water coming in.”
The pipe that burst is cast iron and was installed in 1962, before the City of Vancouver switched to a much more durable ductile iron, said Daniel Roberge, Vancouver’s director of engineering for water and sewer.
He said Vancouver is trying to replace older pipes before they burst – but it’s a big job, with more mains bursting each year.
“It’s a slight increase year over year,” Roberge said. “The system is getting older. Consequently we are increasing the work we’re doing and replacing more pipes.”
Right now, the city replaces about eight kilometres of pipes each year of the1,500 kilometres of pipes in the city, he said. After an investment of around $91 million, they hope to be replacing 11 kilometres of pipes each year.
But with around 20 per cent of pipes being in “poor or very poor” condition, that means there’s about 300 kilometres of pipes to replace, he said.
Do the math – that’s about 27 years to replace them all.
“The condition of the asset doesn’t necessarily speak about the rupture of the pipe,” he said. “If we think a leak is imminent we will address it now.”
It’s not a problem unique to Vancouver. In February, a water main broke in the parking lot of a Langley business, opening up a sinkhole the size of an SUV.
In January, thousands of litres poured into Vancouver Harbour because of a water main break near Canada Place.
In October, a 100-year-old cast iron pipe on West 29th Avenue in Vancouver split in half, turning the street into a river.
Also in January, neighbours and homeowners had to use wooden boards to divert water away from their homes after a pipe burst by Trinity Street and North Ingleton Avenue.
A study by Utah State University’s Buried Structures Laboratory found that across North America, overall pipe breaks were up 27 per cent in 2018 compared to a similar survey in 2012.
“The scale of the existing infrastructure deficit means that distribution main assets will continue to deteriorate over the next several decades as replacement program catches up with deterioration rates,” city staff wrote in a recent capital plan.
“There is an urgent need to increase the infrastructure replacement rate over the next 10 years to manage deterioration due to a significant portion of mains reaching end of service life in the next 30 years,” the capital plan says.
Neighbours had criticized the city for not responding to a complaint from May 6 about a small leak in the pipe.
“They could have fixed the problem before it became a problem,” said David McHolm. “Now it’s a major reconstruction.”
The city responded to a 311 call about a small leak that was sending water down Lakewood about two weeks ago. It takes a few weeks to devise an engineering plan, said Roberge.
“We need to put an engineering package together to give to a construction crew,” he said. “That takes about two weeks. We were scheduled to go in next week.”