Capital Regional District directors are opening the door a crack to the possibility of applying treated sewage sludge to farm or forest land.
In 2011 the CRD banned use of biosolids sludge — the leftovers from the sewage treatment process — on land over concerns that farmland and the food grown on it could be polluted by pharmaceuticals and heavy metals.
This week, directors agreed to have staff develop a survey to determine how many farmers and foresters would be willing to consider applying treated sludge to their lands.
They also agreed to ask proponents to outline technologies that might address board concerns about applying sludge to land.
The moves are part of directors’ search for an integrated waste-management solution for dealing with liquid and solid waste in the region.
Sludge from existing sewage treatment plants in Sooke, Salt Spring Island and the Saanich Peninsula is now dumped in Hartland landfill.
In a motion to the CRD board, Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor says it costs $500,000 a year to truck sludge from the Saanich Peninsula Treatment Plant to Hartland for disposal.
Windsor notes that new technologies may alleviate the concerns that prompted the 2011 ban.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps supported getting more information. “I am not one to close doors,” Helps said in an interview.
“If I was asked today to vote to remove a ban on land application of biosolids, I would vote no. But I do think … there may be some technologies out there that we haven’t heard of yet.”
Different levels of wastewater treatment result in different classes of biosolids. The current sewage treatment plan calls for a residual solids treatment plant at Hartland landfill to produce Class A biosolids, which contain no detectable levels of pathogens.
(Class B biosolids are known to contain bacterial and viral pathogens at varying levels.) The biosolids would be stored at Hartland pending the CRD’s decision on integrated waste management.
But the CRD is facing pressure from the province, which supports land application of biosolids, to find an alternative to storage.
Environment Minister Mary Polak has told the CRD’s sewage treatment project board that the region must develop a definitive plan for “the beneficial reuse of biosolids” that does not involve multi-year storage at Hartland.
Saanich Coun. Vic Derman said it should be made clear to any farmers who says they are willing to use biosolids that it would have to become public knowledge.
“I think it’s very, very dangerous to create a situation where you’re putting biosolids onto farms and then selling produce to the public without letting the public know,” he said.
“I’m not saying the public is for or against it, but they certainly have a right to know that that’s something that happens.”