Comment: CRD should seek waiver of federal sewage rules

In 1991, engineer J.E. Dew-Jones published his book Victoria’s Sewage Circus, providing the evidence of how effective Victoria’s two deep-sea outfalls are in enabling its sewage to be treated naturally by the unique marine environment.

The engineered outfalls are more than one kilometre from the shoreline and have 200-metre diffusers. They are also 60 metres below the ocean surface. Many studies by the Capital Regional District have shown that this practice has a minimal impact on the marine environment and the plume cannot be detected 400 metres from the end of the outfalls.

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The sewage circus continues today, 24 years later. The CRD’s eastside and westside committees have been examining many sites for possible land-based sewage treatment plants. However, it appears the Liquid Waste Management Committee does not have a clear goal of what it is trying to achieve.

What are the goals of the project? One hopes the goal is to build sufficient land-based treatment to satisfy the regulators, but at the least cost possible. However, it appears from the public consultations that they might be going to build a “Cadillac” system with all the bells and whistles.

Voices from Washington state (“Get moving on sewage,” guest editorial, Aug. 20) have from time to time tried to shame Victoria for not building land-based treatment plants. It is suggested that Victoria’s sewage is contaminating Puget Sound or the San Juan Islands, which is absurd and not supported by the facts. They should clean up their own backyard.

According to People for Puget Sound, 549 streams, rivers and lakes across the Puget Sound region are impaired by poor water quality. Harbour seals in Puget Sound are seven times more contaminated with the persistent toxic chemicals known as PCBs than those living in Canada’s Strait of Georgia, which adjoins Puget Sound. More than six million kilograms of toxic chemicals enter Puget Sound waters annually. On an average day, it’s estimated that 60,000 kilograms of toxic chemicals — including petroleum, copper, lead, zinc and PCBs — enter the waters there.

Due to 20th-century industrial contamination, the lower eight kilometres of the Duwamish Canal in Seattle, which drains into Puget Sound, was declared a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The contaminants include PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, mercury and phthalates.

Hood Canal is a fjord off the Puget Sound where hypoxia, a low-oxygen condition, occurs due to oxygen-absorbing pollutants and lack of tidal flushing.

The CRD has, on the other hand, a world-class, highly effective sewage-source control program that eliminates many chemicals of concern and is making improvements to prevent storm water from contaminating the beaches. We do not have industrial runoff such as that which occurs from the Duwamish Canal and other sources in Puget Sound.

As the sewage circus continues and the CRD tries to come up with a plan to satisfy the regulators, they should consider challenging the Canadian Federal Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, such as by a judicial review or an appeal to the Federal Court of the scientific basis for taking a “one size fits all” approach in the regulations. This approach was successful in San Diego under U.S. laws.

The waiver would be based on the many studies showing the current practice of discharging the screened sewage through two deep-sea outfalls has a minimal impact on Victoria’s unique marine environment. In spite of the rhetoric and misinformation from Washington state, this should be pursued, if it appears that the current planning results in an unaffordable burden on taxpayers for no clear benefit to the overall environment — land, marine and global.

Dr. Shaun Peck was the Capital Regional District’s medical health officer from 1989 to 1995.

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