Your enjoyment of our waterfront

One of the joys of living in the Comox Valley often touted in tourism promotions is the pleasure of swimming off beaches around Baynes Sound, including Comox Bay, off the end of Goose Spit, or from the beach at Point Holmes.

Besides swimmers, people paddle kayaks and SUP boards. Youngsters often take unexpected dips into the bay while learning to sail, or tubing behind a boat.

But imagine how even a small leak of raw sewage from the kilometers of pipe that run along our estuary and pristine shorelines could spoil that fun, and foul the Valley’s reputation. Putting raw sewage pipes in our waterfront creates the risk that some people could get ill from unacceptable levels of bacteria, such as e. Coli.

Maybe that risk is small, but it exists. And it’s unnecessary because the Comox Valley Regional District could move most of its sewer pipes inland, and out of our waterfront.

The Dyke Road

This main arterial route connecting Courtenay, the K’omoks First Nation and Comox was named accurately. The road is a dyke. It separates low-lying land, the former Farquharson Farms, from a river and a tidal estuary.

Winter storms make dykes susceptible to breaching. Just watch and read the news, because it happens almost every day in the southeastern U.S.

It could happen here. Imagine a 5.4 metre high tide. Add 1.1 metre for a storm surge (reasonable, based on data from the Campbell River monitoring station), 0.4 metre for sea level rise (conservative)  and 0.2 metre for an extreme wind factor. That adds up to 7.1 metres, or just over 23 feet of water.

Just a few feet of water combined with a strong storm floods the Dyke Road. Twenty-three feet would cause an emergency.

Besides property damage, and threats to human and animal life, such a storm could unleash a tragic flow of raw sewage into the estuary, and then it would spread down Baynes Sound and throughout Comox Bay.

Roads have been breached

A winter storm earlier this year flooded the roads at Goose Spit, Point Holmes and on the Dyke. Rising waters and wind flung logs onto the roads, prohibiting safe passage in places until highway crews could clean them.

The sewage commission has so far ignored the predicted effects of climate change in its Sewer Master Plan and the impact that more intense and severe winter storms will have on our shorelines. Shouldn’t we consider these inevitable changes before we spend millions of dollars to put more critical assets at risk?

Neighboring cities, such as Campbell River, are already making plans to remove sewer infrastructure from their foreshore based on this emerging data.

We will have another earthquake

In 1946, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake rocked the Comox Valley. Portions of the Dyke Road were completely destroyed, and made impassable.

When the next quake occurs here, it’s almost certain that the main sewer line that runs along Dyke Road, through the estuary and into Comox Bay will be twisted enough to break, crack and spring a leak. Raw sewage will foul our waters right down into Baynes Sound.

Sewer pipes placed inland could also break, but we could more easily contain the leaked effluent on land, and that would minimize the environmental damage.

Shit happens

Engineers can design safe systems, but that doesn’t preclude the unexpected from occurring.

The Courtenay #1 pump station has an electric alarm system to alert city staff when trouble occurs; when the pumps stop working, for example.

But that didn’t help recently, when rats chewed through the wires and disabled the alarm system, according to the operator of a septic pumping service. The rats also chewed wires that shut down the pumps. Before it was discovered, sewage had backed up in the pipelines.

That incident ended without serious consequences. But it’s proof that every system or piece of infrastructure can malfunction. Doesn’t it make more sense to place sewer pipes inland, and reduce the potential for damage?

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