Giant, sucking vortexes of storm water

This is not a picture of my back lane

This is not a picture of my back lane

Photo by Michael Klassen

I fell into a storm drain yesterday. Right outside my back gate- you can’t avoid it really if you’re walking into the lane. We’re at a low point, kind of the bottom of a bowl. It’s something we didn’t notice in our quickie decision to buy this place and it probably wouldn’t have stopped us anyway. It was and is a fine house, that had a bit of a sad, neglected vibe (the folks before us started to bring it back) in a neighbourhood I knew I’d love with a yard that was a blank suburban slate. No attractive landscaping to get in the way of my messy experiments.

But drainage issues are on my mind a lot. When we get a lot of rain, like we did this past week, the drain fills up and the water starts rising, creeping over the backyard. I’ve come to the conclusion that a pond makes some kind of sense. There are steps we can take to lessen the threat to our home and belongings. But even when we get our various water systems get working more efficiently I figure we’re still at risk. This is wet city and if the last year is any indication it’s only getting wetter.

Stephen lent me a book about Vancouver with maps from various points in our history. Where we live is old river bed. Of course, the clay soil indicates that. It’s nothing like the sand I’ve worked in before here in the city, or on the island. I’m still observing what it can do (hold water like a concrete tank) and what it can’t (drain water at all efficiently) and what that means for the plants. Not too long ago I heard from another neighbour that there used to be ditches along our lanes. They filled them in and paved.

I’d like to confirm this story with the city and find out when it happened. Residents can now band together, pay lots of money and have their lanes transformed into a “country lane” because water drains more efficiently. But not too long ago we had effective drainage ditches and we filled them in? I wonder if it was perceived as too “country”.

What we’ve got is definitely a city kind of problem. The storm drain set into pavement outside my back gate is situated at the lowest point of the bowl, on a tributary that meets one of the biggie city drains only a block away. It has nowhere to go but into a yard, our own or one of our immediate neighbours. I watched the water advance up the backyard onto our house over the last week of monsoon rains. It never got critical so I didn’t call the city as we did many times last year. They’ve always been very responsive. Friendly on the phone and quick to action. A giant vacuum sucker truck comes and pumps the water into a giant tank. Blooop- water gets sucked out of my yard.

I watch this process with gratitude and fear- gratitude that I live in a city that is wealthy enough to respond like to this to the needs of a few of its tax-paying residents even in the midst of a month of torrential storms like we had last November. But if anything is certain about the new weather it is that the power and frequency of storms is increasing. It strikes fear into my heart to depend on such a solution.

I’m guessing that one of my neighbours was out there poking away to see if there was a blockage. I don’t think it was the city monkeying around with the drain, or else I missed the truck when it came. But whoever was out there in drainage problem solving mode, didn’t replace the grate properly and when I stepped on it, it dislodged and I fell in. My left foot broke the fall and prevented me from going all in (nice set of bruises up the right side). Thank gd it wasn’t a kid.

On the other hand, my left foot ain’t feeling so hot right now. X-rays have been taken and I assume eventually someone will call and tell me whether it’s a sprain, strain or fracture and that I should stay off of it and rest up. Which is what I’m doing, because it hurts and that’s tiring.

But it seems to be the perfect opportunity to note down what already had been going through my head about our water system needs (in no particular order) not too tiring to think of the kinds of actions that need to flow.

1) call the city and get it on record

2) talk to the neighbours and warn them of the danger and start asking if there’s anything we might be advocating for beyond giant pumper trucks (i.e. a country lane?)

3) fix eaves and downspouts on garage. Direct the water into collection systems. Design for overflow.

4) dig a pond and plant for the land as it is. Which means a lot of relocating and a new fence at the back.

4) design water collection systems to take advantage of the house roof. Consider how a future grey water system might fit in eventually.

Now I really am tired. Thank god I have a built in excuse not to do any of this right now.


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