British Columbia

False Creek's high bacteria count likely due to resident boaters

A new report before council points the finger at local 'live-aboards' for not properly disposing of their sewage, causing high bacteria counts in local waterways in the summer.

In midst of city's housing crisis more people may be living on boats and in waterways, says report

A new report before Vancouver City Council says high E. coli occurrences, especially in the east basin of False Creek, are likely due to live-aboard boaters improperly dumping raw sewage into the waterway. (Christer Waara / CBC)

It's dirty, it's smelly — and in the summer the E. coli count can get dangerously high.

Now, a new report before city council says the main cause of seasonally high bacteria counts in False Creek is some people living on their boats aren't properly disposing their sewage.

"Those combined sewer outfalls only overflow during heavy rain events which don't typically happen in the summer, which is when our water quality suffers," said Jennifer Mayberry, manager of environmental services for the City of Vancouver.

Mayberry said the city has undergone "rigorous" upgrades to sewage basins and sewage connection points near the creek, further eliminating sewage overflow as a factor.

A boater survey conducted by the city in March found many people living on their boats are doing so without a permit.

Having a permit guarantees access for boaters to empty their sewage tanks at specified marinas.

According to Mayberry, the survey showed boaters are not satisfied with those services, likely because there are too few services or they are inconvenient to use.

"For the people who took the time to answer the survey, mostly, this is of concern to them and they report that they manage their sewage properly," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's On the Coast.

Housing crunch means more live-aboards

For the first time in Canada, the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count included live-aboards from around the region but it's still unclear how many there are locally.

Those numbers are not included in the preliminary data that has been released, but according to Mayberry, there are about 1500 boats in False Creek and about 20 of those are moored in open water.

Pitching a potential solution, Mayberry is asking the city to cover the cost of a pilot project this summer for a mobile pump service to go to the boats and empty their sewage tanks directly.

"Obviously there's a housing crisis and the live-aboards play a role in that," said Mayberry.

"We want people to live on boats — we just want to make sure they can manage their sewage properly."

With files from On the Coast