A scientist asked a good question as reported in the July 1896 issue of Scientific American: Why would people bring into their homes “a most deadly enemy” in the form of a water closet instead of being content to use an outdoor privy?
The enemy has come out of the closet, so to speak, but nobody has answered that question to my satisfaction.
Today, while modern toilets can be found centre-stage in designer bathrooms, what is flushed down them is far more disagreeable to everything and everybody, near and far, than it was 117 years ago. So is what goes down drains.
The waste we discharge contains organic compounds, metals, phosphates, nitrates, colloidal and suspended solids as well as human pathogens — and detergent compounds that make fish wonder what sex they are.
Scientists did a study of sewage-receiving waters in the Great Lakes in 2000-2002 and found identifiable quantities of drugs such as caffeine, carbamazepine (an anti-epileptic drug), cotinine (a metabolic of nicotine), the anti-depressant fluoxetine and atorvastatin, the drug prescribed to lower cholesterol.
What to do with all this stuff has seized today’s Greater Victorians by the throat and pocketbook. What a century ago could be regarded as a personal or family concern or inconvenience has become a major issue involving neighbourhoods and communities, towns and cities, regions and provinces and all the levels of government and bureaucracy that presumably are needed to make them function as somebody thinks they’re supposed to.
The factotums set over us have decided for us that using the strait as our waste receptacle is no longer to be tolerated. They’ve demanded levels of treatment without scientific justification or without any concern that the cures they demand will cause other problems.
The beadles have set unjustified and unfathomable deadlines.
So we, the taxpayers, find ourselves on the hook for a project that seems arse-backwards from the start. Property is acquired for “facilities” that haven’t been designed yet. Pipelines are ordered for routes not determined yet.
And nobody is told what method of treating the sludge will be used — because nobody seems to think it’s of interest at this stage or the business of those who’ll foot a large part of a whopping bill.
The information about the process that has leached out, despite the apparent determination of the Capital Regional District panjandrums not to commit themselves to anything until after the fact, is that it probably will involve “anaerobic digesters” to treat the sludge.
This sounds to me as if bacteria will be working on the stuff in the dark, without oxygen, to turn it into useful gases and soils and squeeze out a liquor that will be pumped back to the sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, thence to be returned to the ocean without the nutrients we used to provide.
You know what’s coming next: We’ll be urged to use the methane produced to cook with, farmers will be urged to broadcast the solids over their fields and recycling will take on a new meaning.
Those elected to look after our several interests find that a big problem calls for a big solution, a sewage mega-project, about as far from the privies of old as one can get.
Chris Corp, a champion of green building, told a public forum in Victoria last week that big is not necessarily better.
He wrote a report for the provincial government in 2007 that advocated using small sewage treatment plants at scattered sites to produce marketable water, heat and fuel from sewage.
The stink would be less concentrated and the damage from possible malfunctions reduced, he said.
Such a common-sense solution, though, isn’t to be entertained by the CRD.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardin reported that staff “suggested” multiple smaller plants weren’t economically viable. Upon a suggestion unsupported by anything, official minds are closed.
What, I wonder, is economically viable about a project that’s going to make homeowners start paying before anything is built and with no assurance that we, the environment or the fish will benefit?
I’m descending into the sludge of despond.