A wood stave pipe pulled out of Cadboro-Gyro Park in Saanich. The city is in the process of replacing dozens of kilometres of the wooden storm sewers. District of Saanich

Time is up for wood stave storm sewers in Greater Victoria

Three kilometres of wood pipe remain in use in Saanich

They look like something out of the 1800s, but most of the old fashioned wood stave pipes below Saanich, and Greater Victoria’s surface, are less than 70 years old.

Constructed like barrels with four inch wide wood planks (mostly made from Douglas fir), they are bound by steel bands. Some are as wide as 1.8 meters. According to Saanich engineering records they were installed between 1950 and 1975 though some are likely older than that.

Saanich is seeking additional money, $1.67 million from the federal government, to complete the wood staves project said Mayor Fred Haynes.

The long-term replacement program was triggered in 2000 when a B.C. Transit bus got stuck in a sinkhole from a failed stave on Blair Avenue in Gordon Head.

Then in 2004 a Saanich lawn tractor also collapsed into a sink hole caused by a broken stave along Cedar Hill Cross Road.

In Saanich alone there is still about three kilometres worth of the wood stave pipes draining storm water out to the ocean, with plenty more around the region. Saanich’s replacement program started in 2000 and is scheduled to have all the functioning wood staves replaced by 2022.

“A large part of the remaining stave pipes will come out with the Shelbourne Street [project],” said Saanich director of engineering Harley Machielse.

The staves were never designed to distributed anything but storm water and for the most part have been successful. Once they sustain damage, however, they become fragile and deteriorate rapidly, Machielse said.

The two-by-four planks were heavily saturated in creosote and wood preservers.

Machielse speculated that the wood stave pipes were affordable and convenient at the time.

“We believe they’re made of local Douglas fir,” Machielse said. “We believe it was cheaper, a plentiful resource, and that Saanich had the construction experience at that time, either with staff or contractors.”

To this day Saanich public works crews will unexpectedly uncover sections of the wood pipes, though not often.

In 2018 Saanich removed great lengths of the stave pipes from Gordon Head Road in front of Campus View elementary, and on two blocks below Laval Avenue, behind Mount Douglas secondary, Cedar Hill Cross Road (at Emery Place) and a large-diameter wood stave culvert crossing Blenkinsop Road just north of McKenzie Avenue.

There’s a few options to replace them, usually through open trench technology. But there’s also some less invasive methods such as cured in place pipe lining, or pipe bursting, where new pipes are inserted into the existing stave pipes.

An example of the vintage wood stave pipe is on exhibit for Galloping Goose commuters at the north end of the Selkirk Trestle in Victoria.

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A wood stave pipe pulled out of the ground in Saanich. The city is in the process of replacing dozens of kilometres of the wooden storm sewers though not all are failing. District of Saanich

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