Explainer: capital sewage treatment; secondary vs. tertiary and more

Why is the Capital Regional District building a sewage treatment plant?

Greater Victoria only screens its sewage before dumping it into Juan de Fuca Strait.

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In 2006, the provincial government mandated sewage treatment. In 2012, the federal government passed a law requiring all high-risk Canadian cities — including Victoria — to provide secondary sewage treatment by 2020.

The plan isn’t without critics: Many people argue that ocean currents naturally dilute the waste and that treatment isn’t necessary.


What is it going to cost?

It’s not clear. An estimate of costs for the new options is expected to be made public in December.

The previous cost estimate for the entire project was $788 million, with about two thirds coming from the federal and provincial governments. The Capital Regional District has until March 2016 to submit a detailed plan for wastewater treatment or risk losing $83.4 million in funding.


When will it be completed?

CRD directors adopted a new timeline in March with a goal of completion in 2023 — three years beyond the federally legislated deadline of 2020.

Funding agreements require the system to be in operation by 2019.


How is sewage treated?

There are a number of steps used to clean wastewater:

• Source control — Focuses on reducing or eliminating contaminants before they enter the sewage system, rather than treating them after they have been mixed with other wastes.

• Preliminary treatment, or screening — Removes larger, non-organic solids such as rocks, rags and plastics, which are sent to landfill.

• Primary treatment — The remaining organic solids settle to the bottom of a tank and are removed for separate treatment. Grease, oil and fat are skimmed off.

• Secondary or biological treatment — Microbes are used to break down dissolved organic solids. Secondary treatment can also reduce some pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

• Tertiary treatment — Improves the quality of treated water, using steps such as nutrient removal, membrane filtration and ultraviolet disinfection. The resulting water can be used for irrigation, industry or even drinking.


How is sewage currently treated in the core communities?

Under the existing system, wastewater in Victoria’s core communities receives only preliminary treatment, with solids larger than six millimetres being screened out prior to wastewater being discharged at outfalls at Clover Point and Macaulay Point. The screened material is trucked to the Hartland landfill in Saanich.

The region also uses source control, reducing contaminants before they enter the sewage system.


What is resource recovery?

A number of resources can be collected or used during the sewage treatment process. For example:

• Heat produced from raw sewage can be captured and used to heat the treatment facility and homes and buildings in the community.

• Methane gas, or biogas, can be generated and used in the plant or off site.

• Struvite, a form of phosphate, can be extracted for use in fertilizer.

• Biosolids can be used as a fuel substitute for cement kilns.

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Four options for sewage

Greater Victoria is one of the few urban centres in North America to dump untreated sewage — millions of litres each day — into the ocean. The current system uses six-millimetre screens to remove larger solids before the wastewater is discharged at outfalls at Clover Point and Macaulay Point.

The Capital Regional District is considering four options, each with a different number of plants, to treat sewage. All provide at least secondary treatment — the level required by upper levels of government — while three include tertiary treatment that will result in water that is clean enough to be reused.


Sewage options maps.jpg


Pitching for a smoother process: This time, options are getting public feedback

Times Colonist

Local officials are about to launch an ambitious program to get feedback on where to put Greater Victoria’s controversial sewage treatment.

The hope is to avoid a repeat of last year, when after nine years of planning and $60 million spent, the CRD was forced to abandon plans to put a $230-million sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point after residents rose up in opposition and Esquimalt refused to rezone the former gasoline tank farm.

“We learned the last time about how to surprise the public and throw things off the tracks. The difference is that everything that’s come forward this time has come forward up through municipal councils,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee.

“We’re expecting a smooth process — not an easy road, obviously — but we’ve been very, very transparent about where any kind of siting would be.”

It’s been a long but quickly travelled road to get here.

After Esquimalt council voted in April 2014 to reject a CRD request to rezone McLoughlin Point for a sewage treatment plant, two sub-committees were established to explore wastewater treatment options and potential sites.

Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria are part of the Eastside Select Committee while the Westside Select Committee includes Colwood, Esquimalt, Langford, View Royal and Songhees Nation.

Since April, with the public being consulted every step of the way, consultants have pared down a list of more than 65 potential sites (on both the east and west side) and come up with a short list of four options now up for consideration. All the current options involve a significant treatment plant at Rock Bay.

The previous cost estimate for the entire project was $788 million, with about two thirds coming from the federal and provincial governments. A rough estimate of costs for the new options will be before the CRD’s Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee on Dec. 9 and then the various option sets, their relative environmental benefits and costs go to the public for feedback.

Helps said the information will not only include estimates for the entire project but a breakdown of the estimated cost to each household in each of the seven areas affected.

“So you’ll be able to say, I live in Victoria so the [cost] implications over the next 20 years or 30 years for my tax year are this for option one versus option two etcetera,” Helps said.

All of this is being done against the backdrop of a March 31 deadline to preserve $88 million in federal funding for the project.

The CRD has until March 2016 to submit a detailed plan for wastewater treatment or risk losing $83.4 million in funding from federal Crown corporation PPP Canada. In addition to the PPP Canada grant, the federal government has committed $120 million from the Building Canada Fund and $50 million from the Canada Green Fund.

Helps is confident the region will meet the March 31 deadline.

Meanwhile, the CRD’s independent technical oversight panel has told CRD directors that all the options are feasible but the best ones are options one and two. The other options are possible but very complex.

“If you were asking a technical team where you would put a bridge if you wanted to build a bridge, we would tell you: ‘Put the bridge at the narrowest part of the river.’ That would be the obvious part to put a bridge. But you don’t have to put it at the narrowest part of the river if you have other reasons for putting it somewhere else and the narrowest part of the river is not the best part of your city for a bridge,” said panel chairwoman Teresa Coady.

Helps said all the options are still up for examination.

“The Technical Oversight Panel can give us their best technical advice, but what we’re going to be looking for, in addition to that technical advice, is input from the public ultimately to ourselves to make a decision,” she said.


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