False Creek pump-out service is hiding the real sewage culprit: the city of vancouver

Vancouver’s pump-out boat in Falls Creek has been renewed for a year at a cost of $75,000.

The City of Vancouver is extending its free mobile sewage pump-out service for boaters in False Creek, the Georgia Straight reported in a recent story. This is good news as reducing our city’s marine pollution footprint is good and important. It’s also nice touch to offer courtesy mobile pump-out. However, it does little to address the dominant cause of fecal coliform in the creek.

I know a little bit about the False Creek ecosystem. In past years I have kayaked, swum, dived, and lived in that body of water. I am a commercial boat operator and have worked and played in False Creek since 1983 when I first learned to handle a boat at False Creek Community Centre. Years later, I taught my children how to kayak and how to sail in the same still-crowded waterway.

The marine pump-out initiative was initiated in 2018 to address a number of recommendations to address water quality in False Creek. At the time, the city acknowledged that:

“Improving the water quality of the Vancouver’s surrounding water bodies has been an ongoing project for decades and has seen significant improvements since False Creek was an industrial centre.

Both in False Creek and in other water surrounding Vancouver, considerable progress has been made to clean up water following Vancouver’s industrial past and old style sewer systems, and the City and Park Board are committed to continued improvement. “

— City of Vancouver Feb 2018 Boat Sewage Initiative Announcement

Here is what I know about the sewage problem in False Creek:

False Creek raw sewage originates overwhelmingly from Vancouver’s storm drains, not the boats on it.

The city knows and has previously reported that it is a practice to flush DTES back alleys in summer into False Creek to keep control on the amount of human and other waste on our streets.

“A staff report to council noted that 561 boats were serviced last year, collecting over 48,000 litres of sewage.”

— Georgia Straight
CoV data about it’s portable poo patrol

I heard the City Engineer (I believe) tell over 100 community parents and concerned citizens assembled at Crosstown Elementary School over safety concerns in early 2018 that CoV flushes human waste from DTES using tanker trucks and that the waste finds is drained into the storm system. He told the assembly that the city is using water trucks during the summer for the flushes, relying on the rain to do the job the rest of the year. He stated the city knows the effluent goes into False Creek. Boaters and paddlers know the outfalls well from their putrid stench and constantly rising bubbles that attract seagulls.

None of the waste from our streets is treated. It drains into the storm drains and into False Creek and Vancouver Harbour depending on the location.

In fact, the worst source for raw sewage is by the Dragon Boats station in South East False Creek.

False Creek E-Coli in Summer 2016
E-Coli in False Creek: Metro Vancouver water sampling reveal water quality in False Creek in three locations. East-most measurement on right of image is closest to storm outfall which dumps untreated DTES waste from flushed alleyways into False Creek. Source: Star Vancouver

As reported by Star Vancouver in 2017,

“While the city has set a goal of separating all its combined sewers by 2050, sewage continues to pollute local waters used daily by kayakers, paddle boarders, and dragon boat teams in the meantime. Almost 674,000 cubic meters of raw sewage and runoff drained into Vancouver’s busy False Creek at just one combined sewer overflow point last year.”

at 1000 Litres per cubic meter, 674,000 cubic meters is 674 MILLION LITRES. Per year. Into False Creek.

THE 48,000 litres of admittedly concentrated sewage is a literal drop in the poop bucket that we create in False Creek. In fact, 48,000 Litres is 0.007% of the total flowing into False Creek.

The City of Vancouver is aware of the raw sewage issue and describes on its web site the ongoing efforts to address of the situation. However, current plans do not address the practice of flushing alleys and streets into the storm sewer network which will still flow into False Creek.

In a two-pipe separated sewer system, stormwater and street-flushed effluent is collected through storm drains. It travels through different pipes than household sewage and other wastewater. Image: City of Vancouver

The just-extended pump-out service is very cute and reduces our collective guilt but does little to address the real need of our city.

Let’s address the REAL sewage problem in Vancouver rather than implicitly blame live-aboard boaters by providing solutions to nonexistent problems.

Politicians rolling out non-solutions to avoid addressing or even naming real problems are deluding us and causing chronic issues to persist.

Addressing 0.007% of False Creek’s sewage problem is to be doing nothing at all. Help hold decision makers accountable.

You can write city council and demand they take action on the real cause of False Creek’s E-coli pollution: our city’s out-of-date practice of dumping fecal waste into it. Click here to get their contact info.

10 thoughts on “False Creek pump-out service is hiding the real sewage culprit: the city of vancouver

  1. Too bad that the pump out people also do breaking and entering the same boats they service


  2. First, I fully support the push to get the city to speed up its replacement of sewer pipes. But I’m wondering why False Creek seems to smell the worst in the summer when it hasn’t rained for a long time. I’m guessing most of the sewage runoff happens in the winter when we get the most rain.

    Any ideas?


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