Up sh** creek...with a crack repair team: RDKB fixes sewage leak in record time

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
March 28th, 2012

A leak in the sanitary sewage line on the Old Trail Bridge at 5 p.m. on Monday led the Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary (RDKB) to issue a “mandatory water conservation notice” to residents of Rossland, Warfield, West Trail, Oasis, and Rivervale, but the problem was quickly solved by Tuesday afternoon.

The leak sprang near the middle of the bridge at a coupler, a joint clamping two pipes of the same diameter together. The pipe is part of the “regional interceptor” that collects sewage from west-side communities and transports it to the treatment plant, the RDKB’s Columbia Pollution Control Centre near Waneta Plaza in Trail. 


“We completed the repair at about 12:45,” said Alan Stanley, the RDKB’s director of environmental services. “We did some testing and perimeter inspections to make sure there were no surcharges in any manholes, and lifted the water conservation notice at about 2 p.m.” Surcharges are the result of downstream blockages that back-up sewage to the point that they overflow at manholes.


During the repair, Stanley estimates that an “absolute maximum” of 5500 cubic meters (approximately 1.5 million gallons) of untreated “liquid material” was diverted directly into the Columbia river at an outlet on the west bank about 50 meters upstream of the Old Trail Bridge. Solid wastes were diverted into a holding tank so only liquids were released. Stanley and others will soon be able to review the event and calculate more precisely how much sewage spilled.


“Environmental technicians took samples and we [RDKB] did regular sampling throughout the day,” Stanley said. “We haven’t finished the lab work, but the water was fairly clear coming out, with no odours. It was not chlorinated.”


Stanley was very impressed by the rapid repair. “You never want to spill a drop in the river, but all things considered, it went as well or better than could have been expected.”


He said it was fortuitous that an emergency response plan (ERP) had been prepared ahead of time. “Last year we anticipated the condition of the bridge might lead us to some problems. Thankfully we had prepared for such an event and had an ERP in our possession.”


The ERP was activated at 5 p.m. on Monday. Crews were “dragged away from their warm houses to stand out in the rain,” Stanley said, working into the evening to review the problem and shut down valves. But no-one had more reason to complain than RDKB Operations Manager Bryan Teasdale: “The best part about it, it was his birthday, and he got the call just as his two daughters were presenting him with a cake they’d laboured over all day long—and he had to run out to stand in the rain and look at sewage pipe!” Stanley laughed.


“I guess that’s just part of the job,” Teasdale said.


Stanley said, “We deployed every available asset to fix it as quickly as possible,” but the situation was difficult. The pipe hangs below the bridge and the bridge itself has severe weight restrictions that prevent the use of large machinery.


As a result of the ERP, a scaffolding company was available Monday night. They drew plans for the scaffold and sent them to an engineer in Prince George, who returned the approved plans by Tuesday morning, “in record time,” Stanley said. Crews went to work right away and the message was sent out to west-side communities to conserve water to reduce the amount of flow in the sewer system.


“There was a fantastic response from the area’s contractors, great support from the City of Trail—with equipment and staff—and the team of tradesmen on the bridge were consummate professionals. It was done quicker than we estimated,” Stanley said.


“We wanted to stop the flow as quickly as possible, but safety is absolutely paramount,” he explained. With “guys dangling over the Columbia River,” it was important that the safety systems were well-prepared, including a fire-rescue boat waiting nearby.


The RDKB ended the water conservation notice on Tuesday afternoon, but currently advises the communities of Rossland, Warfield, West Trail, Oasis, and Rivervale: “You may be issued a water conservation notice during future repairs and upgrades to the sanitary sewer system.”

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