EDITORIAL: White Rock outgrowing its infrastructure

White Rock's water and sewer problems are indication of a larger issue

The problem of a sewage leak on White Rock beach last Sunday was quickly resolved and – panicky media reports earlier this week notwithstanding – there’s nothing to inhibit families from strolling on the sand while enjoying Spirit of the Sea festivities this weekend.

At press time, it was anticipated dipping in the sea would also be safe, pending final confirmation from Fraser Health.

But the poor timing of the sewage overflow into a storm-water diversionary system – just before the city’s biggest public event of the year – has given White Rock council and city staff pause to reflect on what else may be lurking in the pipeline to tarnish the city’s image.

The reasons for the latest incident are complex and the source of the food waste that blocked the sewer may never be satisfactorily determined, although some on council are more than ready to point the finger at Marine Drive restaurants.

But – like the boil-water advisory last year – the problem seems to be related to past practice and the inexorable aging of infrastructure.

In the former situation, old seals on reservoirs that were letting bird droppings in needed to be upgraded. In the current problem, while city staff have been conducting maintenance, they were unaware of a former policy of connecting sewer and storm-water systems until the spill occurred.

Expensive upgrades by water facility EPCOR and what will become a chlorination of White Rock’s water has “fixed” last year’s problem.

Letters to restaurants regarding the need for oil and fat separators – and a report to council on making them mandatory – may help fix the most recent emergency. It will also help that the connecting pipe between the sewer main and the storm-water system that caused Sunday’s leak has been severed. And though most such connections were shut off 15 years ago, it’s possible others may yet remain.

We can’t expect the public to understand the background issues, or recognize that our water is largely in the hands of a private company, while the integrity of our sewer system is contingent on what operations manager Rob Thompson terms “corporate memory.”

Whatever the reasons, when water must be boiled and raw sewage is on the beach, it’s the city’s reputation that takes the rap.

It’s no secret the city has far outgrown infrastructure built for a small seaside town. And decisions and policies that were logical years ago should not be expected to obtain today.

We have to wonder how many other ticking clocks there are in the city – no matter what started them running years ago.

– Peace Arch News