Record water levels wreaked havoc on sewer system

High water levels in Trail have forced the City to pay up.

A near record river level in July means the city is now on the hook for over $35,000 in repairs to the regional sewage treatment facility, prompting a call for new flood control levels, according to the city’s regional district director.

Robert Cacchioni said the high water level of the Columbia River has meant the city will be forking over 70 per cent of the local costs to repair the Columbia Pollution Control Centre (CPCC) and its Glenmerry Lift Station.

Cacchioni admitted $35,000 was a bite-sized portion of the total $390,000 bill the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary incurred over the damage, there was additional concern over the situation reoccurring.

“It appears this is going to be an annual event,” Cacchioni said about flooding. “I think we are going to get this runoff every year, with the way the rains have changed and the weather has changed.”

He called on BC Hydro to look at its permits for allowable water runoff levels. If the permit levels—or the water level allowed—are set too high they will affect where the sewage treatment plant’s outflows and the pumps are working.

If there was $400,000 in damage here, what is the damage level throughout the entire Columbia basin that taxpayers have to absorb, Cacchioni asked.

He raised the issue in the regional district’s sewerage committee, noting concerns about the permit levels and the prospect of ongoing damage. However, the regional district and the City of Trail do not have authority to adjust permit levels, it has to be looked at by the province.

He will be talking to the minister responsible for BC Hydro, Rich Coleman, at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria later this month.

“Why should the taxpayer be absorbing almost $400,000 in costs every year because the BC Hydro permit levels is set where it is. It is at least something that should be reviewed,” Cacchioni said.

Although infiltration of water into the sewer system from high river flows has ceased, said the regional district director of environmental services, Alan Stanley, in an Aug. 15 letter to the board of directors, the lift station is still compromised.

Only one of the two pumps at the station is operational, but the CPCC has been substantively cleaned, decontaminated and repaired.

The repairs, contractor’s fees, consultant’s fees and regional district staff overtime resulted in significant expenses currently estimated to be about $200,000, said Stanley, with up to $190,000 still to come.

“Some of these expenses have been covered by the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP), confirmed at $25,000 with the $365,000 balance submitted to PEP for approval and payment,” he said in his letter.

The PEP program pays 80 per cent of the recovery expenses, with the communities and partners in the service paying the rest.

There was no mismanagement on the part of BC Hydro, said Kelvin Ketchum, BC Hydro’s manager of system optimization. With four big reservoirs—Mica, Arrow Lakes, Duncan, and the Libby—and Kootenay Lake to manage, the Crown corporation did the best it could, he said.

It was a big water year, Ketchum admitted, and BC Hydro was in damage control when the big rains hit in July.

“This year was how do we best get rid of this water to minimize the damage. This was an unprecedented year,” he said.

“We did not draw every reservoir down to empty before this. In hindsight, if we knew we were going to get all of this rain, we probably would have taken all of our reservoirs to empty.”

But then there was the possibility there wouldn’t be that much rain and then the reservoirs are half full all summer.

“That’s a problem too,” he said. “Reservoir management has all sorts of issues, and flood control is right at the top of the list.”

He said he could see that Trail might be eligible for money from the government for flood relief. And it would be welcome, said Trail city councillor Gord DeRosa, since there’s likely going to be major costs to the city once the repair begins.

The Columbia River had come down over eight feet from its high of approximately 215,000 cubic feet per second flows on July 22 from the Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar.

DeRosa said it will be interesting to see how the City of Trail’s river wall fared through the high water. There was a restoration plan in place for the river wall, including rip rap along the base of the wall.

He also noted the public wharf sustained about $30,000 in damage from the high river water and will also need to be repaired.

Public Works will also be implement some storm sewer pipe re-sizing and review of the entire sewer system’s capacity before winter.