A concerted effort by crews and locals meant the lift-station failure this weekend didn't have as significant an impact on the Squamish Estuary as it could have, according to the District.
In a news release late Sunday afternoon, the municipality said its crews and contractors made "good progress" overnight in mitigating impacts from the Queens Way lift station failure on Saturday.
"Crews were successful in setting up a bypass line around the failure to enable wastewater to flow directly from the downtown lift station to the Waste Water Treatment Plant," the release states. "Vacuum trucks worked all night to transport wastewater to other manholes in the community while the bypass was installed."
The impacts to the Squamish Estuary were "limited" and ended at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, the release stated.
The community effort in reducing water consumption during the 24 hours it was requested played a significant part of mitigating the impact, according to the District.
Starting Saturday afternoon, locals in impacted areas were asked to conserve water, using only as much as was essential. That request was lifted Sunday afternoon.
There has been concern on the part of some in town who have reached out to The Squamish Chief regarding the potential impact of the diversion of water on the vital and sensitive habitat of the estuary.
The District stressed that there was no other choice on Saturday but to have water diverted into the estuary.
"The discharge to the Squamish Estuary was an absolute last resort when every other effort was exhausted and when wastewater volumes exceeded the capacity of the lift station and trucking capability," the release states. "This discharge was required to avoid backing up wastewater into peoples' homes and businesses."
The District said it is working with the Ministry of Environment to follow all necessary regulatory protocols.
"We are very grateful to a large number of people who responded in the last 24 hours – many residents and businesses reduced their water use; several local contractors stepped up with offers of help; and District crews and contractors worked around the clock in emergency response mode," said Mayor, Armand Hurford, in the Sunday release.
The new system is working well, and the infrastructure has caught up with the backlog of volume, according to the District.
Work to replace the failed manhole at the lift station will now be expedited.
We are also learning more about what went wrong and why.
The District release said that its staff were aware of issues with the 25-year-old Queens Way manhole due to its age and had a project planned — and a bid out — to replace the manhole this spring.
According to the release, District crews had "very recently" noticed increased deterioration at the Queens Way site. Emergency work to build a bypass had been scheduled for Saturday night while wastewater flows were at their lowest. This would have allowed the trucking of the waste to keep up with the volumes.
Before that work could begin, however, the lift failed Saturday morning, "prompting the unplanned emergency response while wastewater flows were at their highest during the day."
District staff confirmed to The Squamish Chief that raw sewage was part of what was discharged into the estuary, "diluted to a degree with greywater, which is laundry, bathing and dishwater.
The total volume of discharge is not yet known.
"Just like most communities across the country, we have a long list of aging underground infrastructure to upgrade, and we have spent tens of millions of dollars annually over the last decade to do the work laid out in master plans," said Hurford. "In this case, the failure happened before we could implement the solution. This is not the norm. This replacement work was budgeted and prioritized for this spring, and so now this work has been expedited."