Nasty sewer clogs caused by grease buildups are costing Metro Vancouver and its member cities more than $2 million a year to fix busted and backed-up pipes.
Now the regional district has set new rules backed by fines in a bid to force all restaurants and commercial kitchens to limit how much oil or fat they send down drains.
A regional bylaw passed in October is now in force, telling affected businesses how big a grease trap they need and how often it must be pumped out.
“Grease-clogged sewers are an avoidable problem that all taxpayers should not have to pay for,” said North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto, who chairs Metro’s utilities committee.
Although most restaurants have grease traps, many don’t work properly because they aren’t the right size or are improperly maintained.
When a sewer gets clogged with grease, sewage can back up and overflow, damaging homes and businesses and infrastructure.
In Richmond, a near-complete blockage of a two-foot sewer pipe last year led to a road heaving and buckling – and a big $870,000 repair bill for the city.
That city also digs up a kilometre of Gilbert Road each year to fix grease-clogged lines.
Utility managers say too many people simply dump oil down drains – where it can solidify and contribute to a clog – rather than hand it properly.
Oils and grease should be discarded with compostible green waste if possible, or else in the garbage, but not down the drain.
Metro determined most area restaurants didn’t pump out their grease traps in 2008.
It’s hoped the threat of stiffer fines will prompt them to clean up their act.
Establishments that are in breach of the rules face re-inspection fees of up to $300 and some offences – like not having a grease trap at all – carry a minimum fine of $2,000.
They’re required to pump traps at least four times a year and maintain records available for inspection by Metro.
But exactly how many firms will fully comply isn’t clear.
Metro wants the province to give it the power to levy much heavier fines of more than $10,000 because of how few restaurants and kitchens obey the grease-handling rules that were already in place.
“We’re looking for upwards of half a million or a million dollars,” Mussatto said, but added that would be in extreme cases, such as an industry discharging large volumes of oil.
Victoria has made no move yet to grant the request and Mussatto acknowledged the smaller fines in the bylaw may not prove a big enough deterrent to get everyone to comply with the tougher rules.
Metro also needs the province to give its sewerage and drainage district the same ticketing authority other municipalities and the main regional district have to deal with smaller violations.
Until that happens, Metro would have to go to court to impose fines, a step officials admit is impractical for minor offenders.
Metro consulted business groups on the changes over the past two years.