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Old water pipes in capital region like ‘ticking time bombs’

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Confusion about who owned a 60-year-old water pipe that burst in October, unleashing a river through a Saanich home and damaging several others, is raising questions about whether other areas are vulnerable.

The flood was a fluke, according to Capital Regional District staff. Although the cap that broke was aging, it should have lasted much longer.

But before the flood, neither the CRD nor the District of Saanich believed the pipe was its responsibility.

“Until 2014, no one was actually responsible for that pipe,” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, who sits on the CRD regional water commission. “The question that immediately jumped out to me was: Do we have similar connections in the city that could basically be ticking time bombs?”

The incident has prompted a review of CRD transfer points with municipal infrastructure, with results expected within the next three months. The CRD supplies water to municipal pipes via mains scattered throughout the region.

Water flooded the Burnside area after the cap on a cast-iron fitting, located on a pipe between a CRD supply main and a CRD meter, failed just before 6 a.m. on Oct. 4.

Nine million litres of water and debris flowed from its location at Burnside Road West and Wilkinson Road down Belgrave Road and onto the Trans-Canada Highway, where it caused a traffic accident.

Jeffrey Stephen, whose home was worst hit, said the damage to his property is in the six-figure range. Three months after the incident, the amount his insurance company will reimburse him still has not been finalized.

Saanich constructed the pipe and fittings in the 1950s as part of its distribution system. In 1997, the CRD installed a meter vault, which measures Saanich’s bulk water flow.

“At that time, unfortunately, what wasn’t resolved was who owned the pipe,” said Ted Robbins, general manager of the CRD’s integrated water services.

When the cap broke, the pipe was deemed intrinsic to the meter vault and, therefore, CRD property. The CRD assumed responsibility immediately.

Even if the CRD had assumed ownership earlier, however, the pipe wouldn’t have been part of a maintenance schedule. With thousands of kilometres of water system infrastructure in the ground, individual pipes and caps don’t make the list, Robbins said.

Instead, the CRD makes five-year plans for its capital program, identifying larger priority areas for maintenance. It has spent $130 million since 1995 replacing water infrastructure.

The cap also failed about 15 years sooner than expected. Cast-iron infrastructure is expected to last a minimum of 75 years, Robbins said. “There’s really nothing we could have done to prevent it.”

The CRD is reviewing similar transfer points to ensure they are clearly defined and documented, according to a report issued 10 days after the flood. It is also reviewing completed upgrade projects to determine, as practically as possible, whether similar vulnerabilities exist.

Meanwhile, some municipalities are conducting their own reviews. Dwayne Kalynchuk, director of engineering and public works for the City of Victoria, said the city has reviewed its own connections with CRD water infrastructure.

“We were concerned, based on the circumstances that happened in Saanich, that similar occurrence could happen here. After we looked at it, we found no issue,” he said. “Everything is in good shape.”

There are eight connections between Victoria’s water supply system and CRD infrastructure, as well as four in Esquimalt that are managed by Victoria. All connections have been renewed relatively recently, Kalynchuk said, with the oldest update made in 1996.

Saanich has more than 20 connections with CRD water infrastructure, said Harley Machielse, the municipality’s director of engineering. Parts of the water distribution system are up to 90 years old, he said, noting a rolling maintenance and replacement schedule updates infrastructure based on a variety of factors.

Oak Bay has one transfer point with the CRD at Lansdowne and Foul Bay roads, said director of engineering Dave Marshall. The municipality did not conduct a review after the Saanich incident, but has an ongoing infrastructure replacement program.


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