The following paper was presented by Biological Oceanographer Dr. Jack Littlepage [now Professor Emeritus, University of Victoria] on Oct.4th.1989 at an open house organized by the Waste Management Plan Commissioner.
Some things have changed in the intervening twenty years: the “closed beaches and high coliform counts” have been reduced to a large degree thanks to closure of the remaining antiquated outfalls and re-routing all sewage to Clover and Macauley Points; an Interception at Source program has greatly reduced industrial contaminants [Dr. Littlepage's recommendations 1 and 2] . Some problems remain [e.g. ancient storm sewers and household wastes continue to contaminate the ocean] but the proposed treatment system won’t fix these. Most of Professor Littepage’s comments remain as valid today as on the day they were made. (Ed.)
A BIOLOGICAL OCEANOGRAPHER’S VIEW OF THE EXISTING TREATMENT SYSTEM
I am fortunate enough to have lived on the Victoria seashore for twenty-five years. I am keenly aware of the changes which have taken place during this period and of the necessity to preserve the marine environment and to keep it as pristine as possible. I also have a Ph.D. in the field of biological oceanography and I have had about twenty-five years professional experience with local oceanography.
I was a consultant with the Capital Regional District on the initial impact statements for the Macauley Point outfall, the Clover Point outfall, the Finnerty Cove outfall and others. All of the lab work in the initial program development and all the initial outfall reports were done in my laboratory. I have viewed the operation of the Victoria outfalls from the air, from surface research vessels, from submersibles and by scuba diving. I am the author or co-author of more than thirty environmental reports to government and industry. Twenty-three of these deal with sewage disposal in the Victoria region.
Victoria has a pollution problem. It has a serious pollution problem. All one has to do is to walk along the beaches of Victoria to be aware of this. None of this pollution is due to the Clover Point or Macauley Point outfalls; not the polluted beaches, not the “no-swimming” areas, not the high beach coliform counts.
The Victoria sewage system discharges into a very dynamic system. There are strong tidal currents. A well established estuarine circulation pattern results in a net seaward movement of the surface water and a “tidal pump” ensures deep water circulation over the sill between Juan de Fuca Straight and Haro Straight. Because of local submarine topography we can discharge effluent relatively deeply in the water column where these dynamic processes ensure dispersion, dilution and assimilation of the discharge.
It is nearly impossible to detect the surface presence of the discharge, even immediately above the outfall. Very sensitive and precise chemical analyses were unable to detect any changes in salinity, plant nutrients or phytoplankton growth attributable to the outfalls. There is no evidence of environmental degradation to either the water, the bottom or the beach which can be traced to these outfalls. Gross floatable solids, which were once traceable to the outfalls are now removed prior to discharge. Gulls are often observed over the outfall and a study of this problem indicated that the gulls are gathering drops of fat which have congealed in the cold sea water and float to the surface after discharge. There was no evidence that they were feeding on any fecal matter.
Comments have been raised about what I call the pseudo-problem of viruses and bacteria in the effluent. Several recent publications have demonstrated that bacteria and viruses are ubiquitous and abundant in the ocean. There are millions of these per millilitre in all the oceans of the world. If they can live there, they are there now. If they are not there now, it is because they cannot live in the ocean. The common mammalian pathogens simply cannot live in the low temperature and high salinity environment of the ocean for any length of time.
I do not intend to review the more than a thousand pages of documentation from 1970 to the present. All I am going to say is that these are available for examination and demonstrate no environmental damage as a consequence of these two outfalls. I only ask that the Commission review these reports very carefully before recommending the spending of several millions of dollars on a project which is not going to improve our environment. This is a classic case of ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’.
What about global consequences of untreated marine discharge? I would like to refer to a recent book by the well-known marine engineer, Willard Bascom1. He has had a long and colourful career in deep sea drilling (Mohole project), coastal morphology, wave and beach interactions and coastal pollution. He was head of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) for twelve years, 1973 to 1985. The current SCCWRP budget is approximately one half a million dollars annually and they manage the coastal marine environment from Los Angeles to the Mexican border.
Dr. Alan Mearns and Jack Word analyzed results from the Southern California study and published data indicating that California’s ocean outfalls increased the amount of sea life in direct proportion to the amount of solids released. The release of solids in Santa Monica bay, for example, increased the total amount of fish and other sea life by 5,600 tons.
In July, 1986, a symposium was held at the University of Rhode Island on the future of the world’s oceans. The panelists were Dr.John Guillard, Imperial College of London, an expert in fisheries, Dr. Kenji Okamura, Japanese Ministry of science, Dr. Dixy Lee Ray, Assistant Secretary for the US Bureau of Oceans, Dr. John Knaus, Dean of the School of Oceanography, Oregon State University and ex-chairman of the National Advisory Committee of Oceans and Atmosphere, Willard Bascom, Head of SCCWRP and several others. Bascom states “To the surprise of the three hundred people present, plus television and sponsors, this group was of the unanimous opinion that ocean pollution was pretty much a myth”. Dean Knaus pointed out “that the environmental movement, in order to make its point, has overstated its case.”
Therefore evidence based on local data, California data, and world-wide experience indicates that there is no advantage, and perhaps a disadvantage, to secondary treatment given the conditions which exist off Victoria. I don’t ask that you believe me, only that you look at the data. I suggest that you consider the following questions before making a recommendation.
1. What are you going to do with 98%+ of sewage which is water, containing high levels of bacteria and viruses, that is better than what we do now?
2. What are you going to do with the very large amounts of sludge which results from treatment? This material may contain unacceptable levels of metals or organic toxins, for treatment does not remove these substances, it concentrates them.
3. How are you going to explain the degradation of the shoreline environment resulting from the construction of a treatment facility and the inevitable air and visual pollution which accompanies such projects.
4. And finally what are you going to tell the taxpayers, who, after spending many millions of dollars still find polluted beaches and posted ” no-swimming” areas
As an alternative to spending these dollars to alleviate a non-problem, I would like to suggest you consider the following possibilities.
1. Ensure that Victoria’s sewage system remains principally a domestic system. Organic waste products are easily utilized by marine organisms: metals and complex chemical compounds are not.
2. Continue the consolidation of illegal, inappropriate short sewage outfalls that exist in the Capital Regional District and connect these to the primary trunk system.
3. Initiate an active program to correct sanitary and storm drain inter-connections. Visible beach pollution as well a high coliform counts are most noticeable after periods of rainfall when the storm drains deliver large amounts of materials to the beaches.
4. When connections to trunk sewers are impossible and septic tanks are permitted, initiate a licensing program to ensure proper septic tank pumping and maintenance. In some areas septic tanks are a viable option to trunk sewer connections, but only with obligatory maintenance programs.
5. Finally, and most importantly, reinstate a quality monitoring program to document environmental conditions. These data should be made available to the public and an annual summary report written in a popular style should be sent to all CRD households.
In the event that a problem is detected it should be immediately addressed and solved within the content of the marine discharge program. It is not necessary to consider the current program as “fixed in stone” but neither is it necessary to abandon the entire program when a relatively minor engineering or management change can ensure successful operation of the outfalls long into the future.
Instead of flocking like sheep to spend our money, simply because “everyone else is treating sewage”, which by the way is not true, we should be promoting our system as the most efficient and environmentally sound system in North America. What other system can you point to which has no appreciable residue, no air or water pollution, requires a minimum of shoreline, increases marine productivity and places a minimum burden on the taxpayer.
In conclusion, there is no evidence for the requirement for a sewage treatment facility. It will not solve the pollution problem in Victoria and it may be environmentally irresponsible.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE
The 1986 Rhode Island symposium stated that restricted inshore marine environment such as (Puget Sound) should not receive industrial and domestic discharges and should be carefully managed. I agree completely with this statement. The comments made in this presentation apply ONLY to the existing Clover Point and Macauley Point outfalls. It must NOT be construed as a general recommendation for marine discharge. This can only be determined on a site-specific basis depending on the receiving environment and the nature of the discharge. Discharge of sewage into fresh water is probably never environmentally acceptable.
1 Reference: Bascom, Willard. 1988 The Crest of the Wave. Harper and Row, publishers.
In his 1988 book “The Crest of the Wave” Bascom describes what he considers to be “Environmental Myth Number One” – that is that ordinary human sewage is harmful to animals in an open coastal environment. In addition to data from SCCWRP Bascom cites Dr.John Isaacs, Director of the Institute of Marine Resources, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, as being incensed by regulations that attempted to control the discharge of human waste into the ocean. Issacs’ opinion was that “the return of organic waste and plant nutrients, resulting from the most natural of acts is most probably beneficial” (to the sea). “The benefits of putting the same material on land is clear to any farmer but the advantages to the sea are not so easily appreciated. The sea is STARVED for basic plant nutrients, and it is a mystery to me why anyone should be concerned with their introduction into coastal seas in any quantity we can generate in the foreseeable future”.