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'This has gone on far too long': Park Board considers expediting plan to clean up Vancouver beaches

Last Updated Jul 22, 2019 at 4:15 pm PDT

FILE - 2019 Sunset Beach closure (Andrea Macpherson, CityNews Vancouver)

Vancouver Park Board commissioner wants city to expedite water clean up

John Coupar says beach closures due to high levels of E. coli in Vancouver have 'gone on far too long'

Rate at which city is working to replace combined storm water, sewage runoffs, isn't moving fast enough, Coupar says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – One by one, the E.coli warnings keep coming.

As the number of beach closures due to bacteria grows in Vancouver, the Park Board is considering a plan to expedite clean-up efforts.

If approved, the idea could make the water quality around the city ship-shape within 20 years.

Trout Lake and Sunset Beach are closed to swimming because of high E. coli counts and similar issues have forced closures at West Vancouver’s Ambleside Beach and Bowen Island’s Snug Cove.

Vancouver Park Board Commissioner John Coupar has put forward a motion to fast forward efforts for improved water quality.

“The motion is to, sort of, deal with a kind of a hidden secret in Vancouver that’s been going on for a long time,” he explains. “The city has a plan to separate our storm water and sewer system by 2050 and recently we had some beach closures, so that’s a big concern to, certainly, the Park Board.”

Coupar says the rate at which the city is working to replace combined storm water and sewage runoffs that drain into the ocean, isn’t moving fast enough.

“When you actually look at the numbers, right now we’re at 50 per cent of the sewer system separated and over the last 10 years, we’ve separated about 0.6 per cent per year. At that rate, we’re not going to even come close to finishing by 2050.”

The city has been replacing its combined system with separated outlets over the last decade — including around False Creek.

Still, water samples from the east end of False Creek, taken just three days ago, show elevated levels of E Coli up to 15 times the current levels of Sunset Beach.

“We all wait a long time for the summer to come, and everybody’s pretty excited and stoked when they can get into the water and swim,” Coupar tells NEWS 1130. “When we have Sunset Beach closed, that problem is a result of overflow in False Creek. I think people are just becoming aware of the fact that this has gone on far too long.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is responsible for monitoring the water’s safety.

Meantime, there are currently no beach closures in waterways tested and managed by Fraser Health.

Coupar says he wants to see the work complete by 2029, and believes the city should be a leader when it comes to clean water.

He notes while the city has done some work through its “Greenest City” action plan, much of it is primarily focused on air pollution.

“We really haven’t spent a lot of time on the waterways and I think that’s really critical, and I think these beach closures really, kind of, bring that to the forefront.”

Coupar admits expediting clean up efforts will cost more. With the federal election just months away, he hopes to see cleaning up the waterways a “federal election issue.”

“Canadians take great pride in how we look after our waterways,” he says. “We’re the third largest city in Canada. It seems… a federal response is critical here, and I’d like to ask both the contenders — both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer — to make it part of their campaign.”

The motion is set to go before the Park Board on Monday.

-With files from Taran Parmar