City moves to cut down on roots infesting sewer lines

Concerns over tree roots damaging Prince Albert sewer lines have city council asking the public works department to update its sewer service guidelines.

City council debated the issue for roughly half-an-hour on Monday before asking public works for a follow-up report due by the next executive committee meeting.

Mayor Greg Dionne said collapsed sewer lines are a common problem in older areas of the city which have older clay pipes. However, he added that’s it’s never going to completely go away as long as Prince Albert has trees.

“We are being a little more cost efficient, but I don’t know if there’s an answer,” Dionne said following Monday’s meeting. “We all support beautiful trees, but at the same time, there’s a cost to them.”

The City laid PVC sewer lines in newer neighbourhoods, which are more resistant to damage, and have fewer joints than the old clay pipe. However, public works staff say roots by themselves aren’t the problem.

Utility manager Preston Galbraith told city council most sewer lines have already been weakened or damaged by the time tree roots start spreading into them.

This causes problems with city-owned trees planted on public property spread their roots and start damaging sewer lines in private lots. Galbraith said he’s seen instances where trees on one side of a street have damaged sewer lines on the other.

“If you want to take out every tree in the city, well then I guess we would have no roots in the sewer,” he said. “We have roots in the main line of the sewer as well that runs in the centre down the street.”

Despite that, Galbraith emphasized that too many residents are blaming trees for collapsed sewer lines when the problem lies elsewhere. He said roughly 20 per cent of all pipe problems can be solved by re-lining them, which usually comes at half the cost of cutting down trees and ripping out roots.

“Trees do not cause failures, but are an indication of condition, as a pipe with good integrity does not allow roots to penetrate,” Galbraith wrote in a report included in Monday’s agenda package.

The current sewer service guidelines have been in place for the last 35 years. Those guidelines not only govern how sewer lines are replaced or repaired, they also govern who picks up the bill.

Typically, the property owner pays one-third of the cost for re-lining a damaged sewer pipe. When trees planted on public property are the problem, the City pays 100 per cent of the root cleaning costs. If the tree split between private and public property, the costs is evenly split.

Tree removal is a last resort under the City’s current policy. Trees on private property can be removed at the owner’s discretion.

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