Everything you never wanted to know about the sanitary sewer system

By District Staff on Monday, Jan 8, 2018

WATCH | Learn how we are working to protect our sanitary sewer system, and find out what role you have to play in reducing the risk of costly overflows

We're willing to bet that our sanitary sewer system is not something that comes up a lot in your everyday conversations (unless you're talking about creepy clowns or 130-tonne 'fatburgs.') 

And that's okay! We make it our business to think about the sewer system for you, ensuring that it can handle all the waste from our sinks, showers, and toilets, and keep flowing, problem free.

A vast and intricate underground network

You may be surprised to hear, then, that here in the District, we manage a whopping 386,182 metres of sewer main pipe, as well as 193,998 metres of service connections to homes and business.

Laid end to end on the highway, that’s enough pipe to reach Revelstoke from District Hall — a six-hour drive.

But that's not all. There are also 6,806 manholes (with covers), as well as 32 'lift stations' that efficiently pump the waste that cannot be conveyed by gravity.

As you can imagine, a LOT of work goes into maintaining this vast and intricate network just beneath our feet.

How we maintain our network

To keep problems to a minimum, each sewer pipe is inspected at least once every 20 years to check for cracks, potential weak joints, and other defects that may require maintenance or repair.

The easiest and most effective way to do these inspections is by sending a video camera (CCTV) down the pipe.

In addition to watching for the defects, we also check to make sure that stormwater isn't improperly entering the sanitary system, which can lead to costly sewer backups into homes.

To do this, we install flow monitors that measure wastewater movement through the sanitary sewers when it’s dry, and again when it’s raining.  If there is significantly more water flowing through the pipes during heavy rain, that's a good sign that we've got rainwater in the sanitary sewer, a situation called 'inflow and infiltration.'

Tackling special projects to keep us flowing

In addition to regular maintenance, we also take on special projects to keep the system running efficiently, and try to eliminate issues before they become bigger problems.

For example, we know from our flow monitoring that inflow and infiltration is a concern in the Lynn Valley area.

As a result, we are currently targeting certain neighbourhoods there, completing rehabilitation work and working with residents to identify sources of inflow.

If you live in Lynn Valley, and want to know more about this project, or how we can help you avoid problems, you can get program details on our website.

Ongoing repair and replacement is business as usual

Much of the District’s building and infrastructure was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and the average age of our sewer mains is 48 years — which is approaching the end of their lifespan.

To stay ahead of the challenges posed by aging infrastructure, replacements and repairs are prioritized, budgeted, and scheduled as part of our Asset Management Plan.

So if you see us working on the sewers on your street, it really is for good reason.

Should you fear the sanitary sewer system?

As long as you don’t flush anything that you shouldn’t (such as wipes), and you put your greasy food scraps and oils in your green cart, there’s really no need to fear what lies beneath. 

And for those of you who are still haunted by Stephen King novels, it may help you sleep at night to know that in all the years we've been sending cameras through our sewer pipes, not once have we spotted a red balloon.

Learn more

Get details about inflow and infiltration, find out how you can spot it, and see how we maintain the sanitary sewer system:

Inflow and infiltration information

Get information from Metro Vancouver about how to keep your sanitary sewer pipes problem free:

Learn what to keep out of your drains

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