Cowichan Valley Regional District directors voted unanimously to support a petition to be presented in the House of Commons to stop boats from dumping sewage into Saanich Inlet.
Denis Coupland, chair of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, surprised some directors with the news that in spite of four-year-old federal legislation establishing a no-dump zone along the coast of B.C. within three nautical miles of the shore, the Valley's coastline remains a legal dumping zone due to exemptions that also take in the waters around the Gulf Islands.
"In effect, what they're saying is, you can't dump except in the areas where there's the most boats and the most homes and the most people," Coupland said.
While his petition directly affects the Mill Bay and Cobble Hill areas of the CVRD, it also takes in areas in jurisdictions to the south, which have all jumped on board.
Pleasure craft and an increasing number of liveaboards forced out of other areas are a major source of pollution in the inlet, Coupland said.
Most don't have holding tanks,
he said, and if they do, many don't bother to head to a pump-out station, they just dump it wherever they happen to be.
"This has created some real hot spots," he said. "Everyone has a problem with dumping in their coastal waters, but the Saanich Inlet, unlike many other inlets and estuaries does not flush regularly with the daily tides."
There is a sill at the mouth of the inlet, Coupland explained, that catches the waste. The inlet flushes only about once a year during particularly high tides in the fall.
The area was included in the exempt zone because the federal government said there were not enough pump-out stations.
To get out of the exempt zone requires a petition be presented in Ottawa - essentially an exemption from the exemption. "You might want to consider making a similar petition yourselves," he told the directors, pointing out that areas such as Cowichan Bay, Genoa Bay, Maple Bay, Chemainus and Ladysmith are also zones where boats can dump their sewage without restriction.
Coupland said the list of stations along the coast they were working with is far from comprehensive.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure expressed interest in finding out more.
Cowichan Bay area director Lori Iannidinardo said she and CVRD staff have been working on the issue for the waterfront community.
CVRD staffer Emily Doyle-Yamaguchi told directors that they are working with the provincial Ministry of Environment to try to establish water quality guidelines in Mill Bay.
Problems with fecal coliform bacterial contamination have closed the shore there to shellfish harvesting for the last 30 years.