Residents complain about odours from waste treatment plant near Lake Cowichan

Consultants are being hired to investigate a waste-treatment plant near Lake Cowichan that some residents say has an odour problem.

The Bald Mountain plant serves about 150 properties in the small Woodland Shores community between Youbou and Lake Cowichan, a mix of single-family homes, cottages and cabins, with additional development planned.

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Byron Burley, who lives across the street from the facility, filed his first complaint about the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s plant in October 2018 and is frustrated about the ongoing situation.

The smell is “rancid,” he said Tuesday. If guests are over for dinner, it means having to explain the situation to them, Burley said.

“You are embarrassed to invite people to your house because you have this disgusting smell.”

Odours often arise in the mornings and at dinner time, he said.

Other times, Burley said he will be woken from sleep at night by the smell. “I am smelling it and tasting it because it is so pungent.”

He and other residents have filed their concerns with the CVRD via online forms, said Burley, who has also met with regional district staff on site to discuss the situation.

A filter was installed in the plant in hopes it would mitigate the fumes, but it hasn’t made a significant difference, he said.

On Sept. 1, Hurley plans to address the district’s electoral area services committee about the situation.

Trevor Price, who lives in the area, said the odour is not as noticeable at his home because it’s farther from the plant, but the smell is obvious when he’s close to it.

Brian Dennison, manager of water management for the regional district, said odour issues are “really tricky” because they are subjective and perceptions can vary dramatically. Noise can be measured in decibels but there is no similar way to measure smells.

And unlike municipalities, regional districts that want to make improvements to a facility must raise the money within particular service areas, which can have limited populations.

The Bald Mountain facility uses bacteria to break down sewage. Because not all residents are full-time, different amounts of material enter the plant at different times, leading to a highly variable flow, Dennison said.

If a large amount comes in, there’s plenty of material to feed the bacteria, he said. If flow levels drop off, however, bacteria starve and die off. As a result, when the next large amount comes in, there could be a shortage of bacteria to handle it. There could be lower oxygen levels and some organic matter may not be properly digested.

An odour-control unit was installed about 18 months ago on a mechanical screen at the plant, but that does not seems to have improved the situation, he said.

Some residents have raised concerns that the odour is bad for their health. A consultant has been hired to analyze the odour and take air-quality samples.

The regional district is hiring a second consultant to examine the plant’s operations, because some nitrate levels are higher than they should be.

The consultant is expected to come up with recommendations to improve plant operations, said Dennison, who hopes to meet with residents this fall and present the consultants’ findings.

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