British Columbia

Metro Vancouver charged in leak of chlorinated water into Fraser

Metro Vancouver is headed for a legal showdown with federal environmental officials over the 2014 rupture of pipeline carrying water to South Delta.

District disagrees with Fisheries Act charges and plans to "vigorously" defend them in court

Deas slough sits on top of Metro Vancouver's Lulu Island-Delta water main. According to court documents, a 2014 rupture of the pipe resulted in a leak of chlorinated water. (Metro Vancouver)

Metro Vancouver is headed for a legal showdown with federal environment officials over the 2014 rupture of a water main between Lulu Island and Delta.

The Greater Vancouver Water District — one of the four corporate entities that make up Metro Vancouver — is facing three Fisheries Act charges related to an alleged leak of chlorinated water into Deas Slough.

One of the charges is for making false or misleading statements to a fishery officer.

It's an incident that has already resulted in a lawsuit between the district and the company accused of puncturing the water main during the dredging of the slough, which sits in the Fraser River estuary by the Massey tunnel.

Metro Vancouver says it plans to fight the charges — which have penalties of up to half a million dollars.

"The Greater Vancouver Water District has cooperated with fisheries officers through their investigation. We respectfully disagree with their decision to proceed with these offences," said William Smart, the lawyer who represents Metro Vancouver.

"We intend to vigorously defend these charges in court."

'Safe, reliable drinking water'

The company hired to dredge the river — Fraser River Pile and Dredge — also faces one count of depositing a deleterious substance into the slough. A spokesperson declined comment while the matter is before the courts.

None of the court documents filed in relation to the case detail the amount of chlorinated water released during the roughly seven days Metro Vancouver says it took to patch the leak.

According to Smart, the district co-operated with Environment Canada throughout the investigation.

According to court documents, the water main was damaged during a dredging operation in the Fraser River. The dredging company denies any responsibility for the incident. (Margo McDiarmid/CBC)

He said water was cut off to South Delta, but some volume of flow had to be kept going in the pipe itself in order to prevent pathogens contained in the river water from entering — and contaminating — the steel pipe.

"One of the requirements for the water district is to protect public safety. We're statutorily required to provide safe, reliable drinking water," Smart said.

"You've got to supply hospitals. You supply homes. You've got business. Hotels. You've got restaurants. If you've got a problem with your water it has a huge impact."

Smart said Metro Vancouver also strongly refutes any suggestion that the district tried to mislead fisheries officers.

He said the allegation arose from a report that was prepared months after the incident.

"There were mistakes made in the report that were inadvertent," he said. "The water district intends to defend that on the basis that they were nothing more than the product of human error."

'Water boiling to the surface'

The circumstances surrounding the leak itself are the subject of a B.C. Supreme Court civil suit between the water district and Fraser River Pile and Dredge.

The pipe itself is about 81 centimetres in diameter and is buried in the riverbeds of the Fraser and Deas Slough.

In a notice of civil claim filed in 2016, the district claims the company punctured the water main at around 9 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2014 while trying to anchor its dredging barge in the slough.

The Fisheries Act charges against Metro Vancouver will be heard in the provincial court of B.C. They carry penalties of up to half a million dollars. (David Horemans/CBC)

The document claims the company notified the district the next morning after which the district took steps to find alternative sources for water while protecting the "water supply from the entry of pathogens and potential contamination."

The district says because the pipe is buried in the mud beneath the Fraser, patching the leak "posed significant operational, engineering and technical challenges."

The water district is suing for negligence and the cost of repairs, the environmental investigation and any possible fines.

But in a response, the dredging company denies causing the rupture — and denies that the "crossing was punctured, as alleged or at all."

"The fact is, that FRPD contacted the Provincial Emergency Program immediately upon noticing what appeared to be water boiling to the surface of the Deas Slough on the evening of 18 February 2014," the response says.

"FRPD reasonably expected that the Provincial Emergency Program would contact all interested parties."

The company claims it contacted the water district immediately upon learning that the emergency program allegedly failed to notify them.

The district will make its next court appearance later this month. The dredging company's next scheduled appearance is in August.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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