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Water main breaks keep Oak Bay municipal crews busy on long weekend

Report in 2021 said "significant portion" Oak Bay infrastructure is in dire need of replacement. Water lines alone would cost an estimated $168 million.

While others were off enjoying the long weekend, Oak Bay municipal crews were busy responding to multiple water-main breaks.

Estevan Avenue between Beach Drive and Esplanade was closed Sunday due to flooding from two water-main breaks.

A fire truck sank into a sinkhole on the road while responding, a situation possibly caused by soil erosion. Nearby resident Katherine Saunier said the truck was pulled out by mid-afternoon.

Saunier said she drove through Beach Drive at 11 a.m., shortly before the flooding started. “I don’t know what came first, the truck or the sinkhole.”

Water supply to a dozen houses was affected by the breaks on Estevan Avenue, but no houses were flooded.

A fire hose laid down on the northern side of Estevan Avenue acted as an improvised water break.

The gushing water largely ran along Estevan Avenue toward Willows Beach, pooling slightly at Esplanade before forming a temporary creek to the sea.

Children played in the running water while other beachgoers debated on going around or getting their feet wet.

Municipal crews excavated a pit at the intersection of Estevan and Beach Drive.

General foreman Pat Smith said that one section of the pipes had a nearly one-metre-long gash. He estimated the water main to be around 80 years old.

Smith said that it hadn’t been much of a long weekend for him and his crew.

On Saturday, work crews responded to a water main break at the intersection of Milton Street and Foul Bay Road, a job that took about eight to 10 hours to fix, he said. “We got some overtime for this, so it’s not too bad.”

As of Monday morning, one lane of Estevan Avenue leading onto Esplanade had been reopened. Police were urging motorists to proceed with caution.

Aging infrastructure in Oak Bay is becoming an increasing problem.

A district report in 2021 found that a “significant portion” of the district’s water, sanitary sewer, storm and road assets are in dire need of replacement and are past their “recommended useful life.”

“Not addressing it will result in an increase in water main breaks, water quality challenges, sewer backups, and storm water issues,” the report said.

According to the report, the useful life expectancy of a water main is 50 to 80 years. It would cost around $168 million to replace all the water lines in the district, the report said.

It said current funding levels mean that Oak Bay will need to borrow $855 million and incur interest costs of about $395 million to fund all necessary infrastructure replacements.

Oak Bay has 116 kilometres of water mains, 100 km of sanitary sewers and 141 km of storm drains.

Climate change will also increase the cost of infrastructure replacement, the report said.

Due to more intense and frequent rainfalls, storm and sewer mains will have to be re-engineered to be about 15 per cent larger to respond to peak flows.

Upsizing 20 to 40 per cent of mains was estimated to cost between $4.8 million and $9.6 million in 2021.

Oak Bay increased its property taxes by around nine per cent this year, one of the higher property tax increases in the capital region.

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