Stoney Creek in Burnaby could benefit from the implementation of the Flowlink monitoring system at construction sites, streamkeepers say. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Can Flowlink stop the flow of sediment into local creeks?

The City of Burnaby, and others in the region, is now requiring construction sites to run all effluent water through the Flowlink system.

By Dustin Godfrey | April 7, 2022 |5:00 am

After a year that saw increased scrutiny of contaminants entering local streams, the City of Burnaby is requiring all major developments to run effluent water through a Flowlink monitoring system before it goes into drainage systems.

Last year, streamkeepers and volunteers brought numerous complaints to the media and various municipalities of contaminations of local streams—particularly Stoney Creek and Byrne Creek.

That included one incident, the source of which is still unknown, that left over 200 fish dead in Stoney Creek.

Both creeks have seen several incidents of construction site sediment being flushed unfiltered into storm drains that flow into the creeks.

This has turned the creeks a milky colour and can pose a serious toxicity threat to fish in the stream.

Stoney Creek Environmental Committee president John Templeton said volunteers with his organization had seen at least five incidents of construction workers washing sediment into storm drains in March.

And Byrne Creek Streamkeepers Association president Paul Cipywnyk said the stream he stewards has similarly seen several contaminations last year.

Implementing Flowlink

The City of Burnaby hopes to put an end to, or at least significantly mitigate, the issue by forcing all construction sites over a certain size to implement the Flowlink monitoring system.

“We’re not doing it for single-family homes, for example, but anything of significant construction that has to have an erosion sediment control permit, we’re mandating Flowlink,” said the city’s director of engineering, James Lota.

“The reason why was basically for environmental purposes. Flowlink does a better job of making sure that people don’t dump junk into the creeks and streams is the long and short of it.”

The Flowlink system captures various data in real time and sends it directly to the city, which could alert authorities within minutes if something hazardous is being dumped into storm drains.

The system provides data on the volume and temperature of water, as well as things like pH and oxygen levels, and turbidity.

And it offers the city a better way of tracking incidents of stream contamination when they do happen.

“And we’re able to tell what’s in [the water] so that if we have to do something to neutralize the effect, we know exactly what to do to neutralize it,” Lota said.

Reducing the potential for human error

Construction companies do have to hire environmental monitors, who have typically overseen things like ensuring sediments aren’t washed out into storm drains, Lota said. But this could rule out the potential for human error.

And it removes the inherent conflict of interest in which an environmental consultant is not only paid for but hired by the construction company.

The city fully implemented the Flowlink requirement earlier this year, but Lota said it wasn’t in response to last year’s contamination incidents.

“But to be clear, it will certainly help us with the Stoney Creek issues, that we’ll certainly know how to deal with them in a faster and more effective manner,” Mayor Mike Hurley noted.

It started off as a pilot project a few years ago, with the city requiring and monitoring Flowlink at about half a dozen construction sites.

The pilot project came after Flowlink, a company that emerged out of SFU research, approached the city, Lota said.

He added that the program proved useful to city staff in the pilot.

“Basically, it did exactly what we expect it to do. It gave us real-time feedback of what happened; it gave us good alerts,” he said. “We were also working on making sure the sensors were tracking the right stuff.”

The pilot program also included adding a Flowlink tracker in tributary 3a, which flows down Burnaby Mountain and feeds Stoney Creek just to the west of North Road.

“Say someone on a construction site dumped something into a manhole or catch basin, we’d also be able to catch that,” Lota said.

“The vision is to have a network of these on all the creeks and streams in Burnaby, so we can monitor the water quality on all the creeks.”

Streamkeepers happy with the move

Volunteers with Stoney Creek Environmental Committee have for months been saying the current way of doing things has not been working. George Kovacic, who closely monitors Stoney Creek behind his house with his son and wife, Luka and Suzana, said the situation appeared to be entirely “out of control.”

But Templeton applauded the move to using Flowlink, saying it would likely be a big help in reducing the number of incidents.

And he said he’s happy to be seeing it implemented in more cities in the region.

Lota said Port Moody has begun implementing Flowlink, and Coquitlam, where many of the Stoney Creek contaminations originate, is also implementing the technology.

“Every time someone asks us [about it], we are encouraging it,” Lota said.

“There’s inherent conflict in the environmental monitors being hired by the contractor. Also, they’re humans, so they’re not perfect. And they can’t be onsite 24/7, so this model has all kinds of advantages.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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