True or False?: False Creek will be safe for swimming this summer

Areas of False Creek meet the criteria for recreational use, but other areas still pose serious concerns for officials.

New rules are in place to stop boats from dumping sewage in the creek

Certain areas of False Creek will be safe for swimming this summer but more research is required before the whole body of water is cleaned up. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Park Board continue to work together towards making False Creek safe for swimming, but certain areas in water still pose a serious health risk.

False Creek is a popular anchoring location for vessels and has been shown to be home to high levels of E. coli.

As part of the False Creek revitalization plan and in an effort to make it safe for swimmers, Vancouver City Council has approved the extension of a mobile sewage pump-out program in False Creek for the 2018 boating season.

The program is free and available to all live-aboard and recreational mariners.

New rules will prohibit the dumping of any substances that could harm the environment of the creek. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

Also, starting next January, the City will require all major marinas in False Creek to provide their own pump-out facilities to customers.

Watercraft are prohibited from discharging oil, sewage and waste into the creek, and the City has now broadened that prohibition to include any substance "that could impair the environment."

Adopting measures to crack down on boats dumping sewage is an actionable solution to part of the problem. But the City has also determined that boat waste is only one source of the pollution.

A thriving waterfront

Early last year, City Council established the Waterfront Initiative, which calls for the creation of what it terms a "thriving working waterfront" in False Creek, including to make it safe for swimmers by the summer of 2018.

The Waterfront Initiative also includes exploring the options of a floating swimming pool in False Creek and a possible swimming beach at the creek's north east corner.

In 2017, the City determined that boat pollution was extremely heavy around marinas after an underwater assessment of the major marinas was conducted.

"We don't know the relative impact of the different sources of pollution," said Margot Davis, the city's manager of environmental services.

Davis said three combined overflow sewage systems discharge into the creek. Most of the time, the sanitary sewage systems flow to a treatment plant. But when there's a lot of rain, and a large volume of storm water is introduced into the system, it creates an overflow and then the systems also discharge into False Creek.

The City has separated two of the systems so they rarely flow into the creek, and currently working to separate the third.

"So when the rain hits, when you remove that out of the system, [the water] can go to the sanitary treatment virtually all the time without any overflows into False Creek," said Davis.

Hydraulic model

Also, through the Green Infrastructure program, the City is trying to stop polluted rain water run-off from Vancouver's roads from entering into the sewage systems.

When it comes to actually swimming in the creek, it depends where you feel comfortable dipping a toe in.

"The water quality in False Creek isn't the same everywhere," said Davis. 

She said there are some areas where the water quality level meets recreational criteria, like at the mouth of the creek, but there are also areas of more concern, including closer to Science World.

To better understand how the pollution is behaving in the water of the creek, the City is working with the Park Board to develop a "hydraulic model."

The model is intended to provide data on how water in the creek flows, a subject where there is little research. The data will inform future decisions around how to improve the creek's water quality.