The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) has been ordered to pay $77,000 to a local couple after thousands of gallons of raw sewage flooded their property north of Williams Lake.
B.C. Supreme Court judge Matthew Taylor ruled the CRD was negligent after a sewer line backed up resulting in raw sewage flowing onto land and into a home owned by Bawnie and David Ward of Wildwood on two separate occasions.
The Wards have owned the farm property that includes a 4.5 acres pasture, two ponds and a well since 2002.
In his ruling, Taylor noted the sewer system is operated and maintained by the CRD.
It services 192 homes collecting raw sewage in a gravity system where it flows to a lift station and is then pumped into sewage lagoons and treated.
Two manholes owned by the CRD and connected to the sewer line are located on the Ward’s property that is at the sewer system’s lowest point.
On March 14, 2015, a windstorm caused a power outage, leaving the lift station without power and non-operational for several hours.
The court heard the sewer system was experiencing high flows due to the spring melt in 2015.
“As a result of the lift station ceasing to operate, the sewer line backed up and effluent flowed out of the known manhole, resulting in the discharge of what the CRD admitted at trial was approximately 49,000 gallons of raw sewage onto the property,” Taylor said.
During the trial, which took place in Vancouver, the Wards told the court how their basement was wet, slimy, stinky, with brown sludge lines where the water line had risen and then receded a day after the flood.
“Mr. Ward testified that the property was “drowned,” Taylor said. “Ms. Ward observed feces, toilet paper everywhere, chunks and lids and recalled that there was a “stench.” She testified that she was “devastated” and she cried.”
Taylor noted the Wards were provided with bottled water by the CRD until their well was safe and provided funds to use campground facilities to bathe.
In September 2020, the CRD admitted that the 2015 flood occurred due to its failure to restore the backup diesel pump in the lift station.
On April 14, 2020, another sewage discharge resulted from fast-rising levels of the nearby Minton Creek which overflowed its bank during the spring freshet.
“Although the volume of the sewage discharge was not as great as the 2015 flood, the Wards once again had to completely restore their basement,” Taylor said.
He noted there were also sewage floods in 2006 and 2010 that similarly flooded the basement of the home requiring restoration on each occasion, however, the CRD took responsibility for both floods and paid for the restoration in both cases.
The court heard, the CRD had completed construction of a new lift station with a backup diesel pump adjacent to the property in 2014.
Land needed for the new lift station was donated and a right-of-way over the property was provided to the CRD by the Wards on the assurance they would no longer have to worry about flooding problems.
In his ruling, Taylor said the CRD did not comply with its own internal policy on sewage removal and in his view did not have an adequate justification for taking no action to clean up the sewage and contamination from the 2015 flood.
“As with the 2015 flood, the CRD appears to have again adopted a strategy of inaction with respect to impacts to the property caused by the 2020 flood. As a result, I have little difficulty in concluding that the 2020 flood is a continuing trespass as of the date of trial,” he wrote.
“To the contrary, most reasonable people would consider the frequency, duration and severity of the flooding events that the Wards have had to endure as being pretty close to a worst nightmare for any homeowner.”
At trial, the Wards testified to the cumulative psychological effect of the 2015 flood.
Taylor said there was nothing about the character of the neighbourhood in this case that could justify four sewage floods on one property over a period of 15 years, particularly considering that there have only been two other sewage floods in the entire CRD area over the rest of its history (and none involving another home).
In addition to awarding the Wards $77,000 in damages against the CRD, Taylor ordered an ‘injunctive remedy’ which will ensure the removal of the contaminants, the restoration of their land and the implementation of sufficient repairs and protective measures to minimize to the extent possible the likelihood of a future flooding event.
A remediation plan must be implemented and all remediation and restoration work has to be completed no later than August 15, 2022, unless the parties agree otherwise, Taylor said.
In addition, all the foregoing repairs and installations to the sewer line and two manholes on the property must be completed no later than November 1, 2021, in which all costs will be borne exclusively by the CRD.
The Supreme Court ruling issued July 30, 2021, was still being reviewed by the CRD, said CRD manager of communications, Chris Keam.
A report about the ruling will be made available for the CRD board at its upcoming meeting later this month.
“At this time we are waiting for the board meeting results,” Bawnie told Black Press Media. “Dave and I are just glad it is over finally.”