The Capital Regional District board made the right decision not to lift the ban on applying sewage sludge to land, but why is such a decision being made now? A proposal to collect and treat sewage is incomplete without a plan for what to do with the stuff after it’s collected.
This lends weight to some critics who have complained that the plan doesn’t appear to be well thought out.
But conceiving a plan in abstract is the easy part; it’s in the implementation of the plan that technological and political realities emerge. It’s relatively easy for the federal and provincial governments to decree that Greater Victoria should stop dumping sewage in the ocean, but it’s the CRD and its appointed sewage-project commission who have to deal with the nuts and bolts of land-based treatment.
When the CRD banned the use of sludge on land in 2011, it planned to dry the sludge for use as fuel in cement kilns. But there isn’t a market for that.
The appointed commission strongly supports using the sludge as fertilizer, compost or soil amendment, commission chairwoman Brenda Eaton said in a letter to the CRD last week. If the ban is not lifted, Eaton’s letter said, the region would have to consider building an incinerator to burn the sludge, adding $38 million to the cost.
The CRD voted Wednesday to uphold its ban, imposed amid concerns about pollution from heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. That leaves burning and burying as potential sludge-disposal solutions, each of which raises its own concerns.
The development of the sewage project has been a rocky road; it’s not going to get any easier. Everyone wants to flush their toilets; no one wants to live next to a sewage plant.
Technical solutions are available or can be developed; political solutions are much more difficult.