Stormwater Pollution Prevention
The City of Richmond is committed to healthy watercourses, and protecting the water in our sloughs, ditches, and the Fraser River. A key element of watercourse protection is properly managing stormwater and groundwater.
Businesses that discharge waste water into the sewer system may have to comply with Metro Vancouver’s Liquid Waste Regulatory Program. Persons or businesses handling polluting substances should comply with the City’s Pollution Prevention bylaw (#8475).
Likewise, persons or businesses engaged in excavation requiring pumping of groundwater must enter into a Non-Stormwater Discharge Agreement.
Richmond’s Unique Groundwater
Lulu Island is a unique part of the Lower Mainland. The island is generally flat with a shallow groundwater table. The water in the ground doesn’t tend to flow, but to stay where it falls. The island was once covered with extensive peat bogs that left an abundance of organic material in the silty soil. This combination results in high organic activity that naturally consumes the dissolved oxygen in rainwater soon after it percolates into the ground. This oxygen-poor groundwater allows anaerobic bacteria to leach metals (especially iron) out of the mineral soil, and makes the water slightly acidic.
Water flowing in our city
When the City was first built, drainage canals were built to reduce the groundwater level and to make the land more suitable for farming and building. When groundwater flows directly into these watercourses, it is suddenly exposed to oxygen, and the dissolved metals form oxides - like the oxide of iron that we know as rust. This explains why so many of our open watercourses have cloudy, rusty-coloured water.
Although this is predominantly a natural process, similar water quality issues are created when non-natural sources of pollution, like metal-rich or oily run-off from roads or spilled hazardous materials enter our watercourses. Being already stressed by the natural background conditions, our surface watercourses are more sensitive to spills, because natural mechanisms that normally act to mitigate pollution are not as available as in some other regions.
Another effect of this background water quality issue is that our groundwater, when introduced to surface streams in large quantities through pumping out wells, can harm fish or other life living in our watercourses. For this reason, the City acts to protect the ecology of watercourses by regulating the dewatering of construction sites.
Sewers, Ditches, Watercourses
Richmond, like all modern cities, has two separate sewer systems.
The sanitary sewer system is attached to the plumbing in your house and other buildings, and is designed to take your waste water to a treatment plant. At the treatment plant, many different organic and chemical processes are used to make the water safe for discharge to the Fraser River and the Ocean.
The City owns and operates much of the sanitary sewer infrastructure, however it is integrated into a region-wide system that connects to several Waste Water Treatment Facilities, which are owned and operated by Metro Vancouver. The system is designed to receive and treat domestic waste, although it may accommodate some volume of commercial and industrial effluent. Metro Vancouver runs the regional Liquid Waste Regulatory Program for commercial and industrial operators in the City. It is important to know that if your business produces liquid waste, you may require a permit from Metro Vancouver to discharge that waste into the Sanitary Sewer system.
The storm drainage system is designed to catch the rainwater falling on roads, parking lots, and other hard surfaces, and direct it back to the Fraser River in an efficient way to prevent local flooding. It is important to note that this water is not treated before it goes into the river, which is why it is important not to pour anything into a storm drain that you wouldn’t pour into the river – keeping in mind you might want to eat fish out of that river!
In Richmond, we have many open watercourses or “ditches” that are an integral part of our storm drainage system. Water moves from the closed storm sewers to the open watercourses and vice-versa. These watercourses are, in many ways, better than closed sewers. They are less expensive to maintain, they can hold much more water than closed pipes, and they provide valuable habitat for plants and animals that make for a healthy ecology.
The City of Richmond does not permit the discharge of any waste water or other potentially polluting substances to the storm drainage system. These discharges are specifically prohibited by the City’s Pollution Prevention and Clean-up Bylaw (#8475). As this drainage system is connected directly to fisheries habitat, including the Fraser River, these discharges may also violate Section 36(3) of the Federal Fisheries Act.
Due to the unique groundwater conditions in Richmond, groundwater pumped out of open excavations or from “well pointing” to protect excavations from flooding cannot be directly discharged to our storm drainage system. If you are planning an excavation that will require dewatering, see the page on Non-Stormwater Discharge Agreements.
Pollution Prevention Bylaw
One way the City of Richmond acts to protect its watercourses and soil is through its Pollution Prevention and Clean-up Bylaw (Bylaw #8475). This Bylaw prohibits the spilling or dumping of polluting substances into the City’s storm drainage system, open watercourses, or soil.
Persons or businesses that store or handle potentially polluting substances are required by the Bylaw to store them in such a way as to prevent their spillage into the environment. If those substances are defined as a Dangerous Good under the Federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, they must be stored in an impervious container with secondary containment to catch spills before they enter the soil, groundwater, or storm drainage system.
In the event that a polluting substance is spilled, the Bylaw requires that the person(s) responsible immediately contain and clean up the spill, to the satisfaction of the City. Nothing in the Bylaw limits or replaces the spiller’s responsibility under the Provincial Environmental Management Act, the associated Spill Reporting Regulation, or any other related Federal or Provincial legislation regarding the storing, handling, or remediation of polluting substances.
The Bylaw also gives the City the authority to take action to contain and clean up any polluting substances if there is a threat to human health or the environment and the person(s) responsible are not willing or able to take appropriate actions in a timely manner. The City may charge the person(s) responsible for the cost of these interventions.
Non-Stormwater Discharge Agreements
Richmond’s unique groundwater situation means excavations for construction or utility works often require constant pumping of the groundwater. The low pH and dissolved metals content of the groundwater can make even “natural” groundwater unsuitable for discharge to Fisheries Habitat, such as the City’s storm drainage system and open watercourses.
The City of Richmond accommodates the need for dewatering excavations through Part 6 of the Pollution Prevention and Clean-up Bylaw. The proponent is required to demonstrate the need for dewatering, to demonstrate that the receiving system can accommodate the flow volume, and to demonstrate that the discharge water will meet applicable water quality guidelines.
If you are planning an excavation that will require dewatering, you should contact the Environmental Sustainability or Engineering Planning departments. As the evaluation process will require the services of a Professional Engineer and a Qualified Environmental Professional, and will require the drafting and execution of a legal agreement, authorization cannot be granted immediately, but can take several weeks or longer, depending on work load.