Residents urged to direct sump pumps into storm system

Peggy Revell

With intense storms in early July flooding basements, the underpass, and areas throughout Fort Frances, residents were warned at Monday night’s council meeting that sump pumps for their homes need to be directed into the storm sewer system.
“Basically, we had two events that were extreme events,” Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown explained in a verbal update to council concerning the amount of rainfall which fell in the early-morning hours of Canada Day and again overnight on July 3-4, ultimately causing the town’s sewer system and sewage treatment plant to be bypassed.
“When I’m talking about a bypass, basically we’re dumping raw sewage, untreated sewage, into the river,” he noted.
Brown said 1,429 cubic metres of groundwater and untreated sewage went into the Rainy River on July 1, followed by another 7,679 cubic metres on July 4.
“We had this six-and-a-quarter inches of rain, two bypasses events, everyone got flooded out in town, our storm systems that go into the river met capacity, so everything is running at capacity, and the rain still [kept] coming,” he summarized.
“Thank God we got relief—the systems can’t take what we’re giving them now,” he stressed.
“The storms are becoming more extreme and [with] shorter durations.”
Yet many residents are not discharging their weeping tile sump pumps onto the street and into the storm sewer system, said Brown, which is contrary to a bylaw the town has had on its books since 1985.
“I’ll give you an example. I drive down Kaitlyn Drive, every week someone goes down there, [and] I’ve only seen a few sump pumps pumping onto the road,” he noted.
“All [of those] houses have been built since 1985, they should be pumping storm water onto the road, entering into the storm sewer system.
“That is not happening.
“We have the bylaws in place,” Brown added. “We’re not enforcing them to the extent, but we are creating problems for our sanitary sewer.”
While having sump pumps tied into the sanitary line “isn’t so bad” in the winter months, Brown said people need to switch them over come summer.
“Go from winter mode, and dump it onto the roads’ storm sewer system,” he instructed.
If residents keep dumping their sump pumps into the sanitary sewer lines, problems with the lines being bypassed and flooding will continue, Brown warned council.
“If I can say one thing, try to get your sump pumps disconnected from the sanitary sewer system and tied in where it’s dumping on the road and do it now,” he reiterated.
“This is the time to do it.
“[The] systems were just about maxed out—if there had been a third event, I think it would have been chaos through the town.
“So do your part in this,” he pleaded.
Brown said the last time the town bypassed the sewer system was on March 30, 2006.
When a bypass occurs, the town has to phone the Ministry of the Environment’s Spills Action Centre and pay overtime costs—something that is reflected in the rates the town charges.
“When we go into bypass mode, you can only get so much water through [the pipes],” Brown explained as he described to council the chain reaction of how the system gets backed up until “eventually someone gets flooded.”
And with people asking why their yards flooded and backed up, Brown pointed to the low-lying areas and how the town was designed about 100 years ago, especially in the east end.
“You’re not going to get rid of [the flooding] unless you drain the land gradually into the storm sewer system—but the storm sewer system won’t take it all at once,” he said, pointing to the reliance of Mother Nature.
“Our systems just can’t handle it,” he stressed. “We can do the best we can with what we’ve got, so we just can’t keep blaming the town because the town’s systems are designed for a certain capacity.”
With regards to the underpass, there currently are two pumps—one going into the sanitary sewer line as a back-up pump and one that goes into the storm sewer.
In the winter, to avoid freezing, everything goes into the sanitary sewer line, Brown noted.
“We used to, as engineers, be able to design for a 25-year storm,” he explained. “If you were worried about flooding in a certain area, you’d design for a more extreme [event], so you’d have a lot of capacity, but you’d only get that storm every 25 years.
“What’s happening now is you’re getting these freak deluges, these huge amounts of water, and there’s only a limited capacity to the two pumps.”
Some $400,000 is budgeted for upgrading this system in the underpass, but the town currently is waiting for the needed approval from CN to proceed.
The existing system can pump 800 U.S. gallons per minute each. The two new pumps that eventually will be installed there will pump 985 U.S. gallons per minute.
“But if we get a storm greater than that, the underpass will still flood because the pumps can only take so much water in a minute out of that underpass,” Brown reasoned, noting that the storm sewer system also is only designed for a certain capacity.
The town also will eventually install a lighting system that includes warning lights for drivers should the underpass be filled with water above a certain height.
One vehicle got trapped in the underpass during the Canada Day storm and had to be towed out.