How did we get into this mess in the first place?
The history of how Victoria has found itself wrapped up in this sewage treatment frenzy dates back to the 1990s, according to a 1998 article in Water Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal, written by respected oceanographer Lincoln Loehr. (It is worth noting that peer-reviewed journals are considered the absolute best and most reliable indications of current science, since only articles which have been reviewed and approved by professional colleagues in similar professions are actually published in these types of journals.)
Loehr sums it up
The abstract of his article, entitled “Municipal Waste Discharge Policies in Washington State and the recent Discharge Issues between the State and British Columbia”, is as follows:
“Federal and state laws mandated secondary sewage treatment for all municipal discharges in the state of Washington regardless of need. Evidence supported the suitability of lesser amounts of treatment and the use of industrial source controls as protective of water quality, but could not be considered. The full implementation to secondary treatment is now complete.
In the 1990s, the media, environmental activists and various local, state and federal politicians from Washington state became upset with Victoria, British Columbia when they realized that most of the sewage from the greater Victoria area was only screened prior to discharge to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The perception was tainted by a lack of understanding of the benefits and the power of rapid dilution and also the mistaken impression that the excessive treatment requirements in Washington were actually needed for water quality reasons.
“A British Columbia/Washington state Marine science panel was established by the political leaders of the province and state to examine issues of the shared Marine waters. The panel concluded Victoria’s discharges were not a problem. The media in Washington state did not report this, and the director of the state’s environmental agency expressed disappointment rather than relief with the finding.”
Superficial media coverage
This abstract, however, hardly does justice to the whole story behind this strange situation we find ourselves in. Loehr goes on to explain in more detail what happened in 1991 after a reporter from a major Seattle newspaper determined that the waste effluent from the Victoria area was being discharged by the CRD into the Strait of Juan de Fuca without any tertiary treatment. The reporter, he said, without any attempt to seek out significant science scientific information, decried this dumping into our shared waters and urged the state legislature to take action. Much of the rest of the press and even national media, as well as state and national politicians from Washington, demanded that Victoria take a more responsible position as they expressed outrage at a perceived threat to Washington’s waters.
Seattle students question our disposal system
By 1992, Loehr continues, a number of groups urged boycotting of Victoria. One group in particular, an eighth grade class from Seattle, received considerable media exposure both in Washington State and nationally. “The class however turned it into a learning experience, studied the issued more, sent representatives to Victoria to hear what the Capital Regional District did, invited speakers into the class, and ultimately reversed their boycott decision! The teacher provided this information back to all the press that had covered the class’s boycott, but none of them opted to report this final outcome.” Sadly, this lack of follow-up by the local press has been typical of the way the media have covered this whole issue almost from the beginning.
In any case, Loehr goes on to note that “much of Victoria’s municipal wastes are discharged with only screening, via two deep outfalls which are very well sited. The effluent achieves a very rapid initial dilution. The effluent is lacking in significant industrial wastes, and is essentially an organic waste stream discharged to an area that can readily dissipate, and assimilate and recycle organic matter. Detailed environmental monitoring by the Capital Regional District shows that the impacts are minimal. That an untreated discharge can be harmless seems improbable to Washington residents who have had to invest so much in secondary treatment for their own waste streams.”
NRC says local conditions should be considered
“In 1993, in the United States, their National Research Council (NRC) completed a three-year long study and released their findings in a book titled Managing wastewater in coastal urban areas. This study, requested by the U.S. Congress, said that we need to get away from the blanket technology-based approach, and instead shift to using available site-specific information coupled with water quality and sediment quality standards to determine what is needed and what works best in a given situation. The NRC noted that the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS) were the waste constituents of least concern in the marine environment, and yet secondary treatment in the United States is defined by a very high rate of removal of these two constituents. The NRC noted that metals and other toxicants were higher priority concerns, but that they were best addressed by source control programs instead of end-of-pipe treatment. The NRC provided a management tool called Integrated Coastal Management as an inherently flexible approach to allow resources to be best channeled towards real problems in the best interest of the environment and the community. The NRC report also noted that physical-chemical treatment methods were also well suited to Marine discharges. The NRC report provided a means for valuing actions in Washington State as well as actions in British Columbia.”
International panel says it’s “not a problem”
“The [British Columbia-Washington] panel … sponsored a two-day research symposium in 1994, and also solicited written and oral briefs from a broad range of individuals and groups. The panel also drew on scientific journals and books and a range of technical reports. A representative of the NRC briefed them on the NRC report. Additional briefings for the panel were held in Washington and in British Columbia. In their final report on “The Shared Marine Waters of British Columbia and Washington” … the panel was a silent about Victoria. At the press release meeting the panel members acknowledged that Victoria’s discharges were simply not a problem. The press in Washington said nothing.”
Hidden Agenda in play…
Loehr continues: “In 1995, this author observed how the British Columbia/Washington Marine science panel’s work had been considered at the level of the Governor’s Office and the Department of Ecology. At a meeting of the Puget Sound Water Qualify Authority (PSWQA) on March 15, 1995, the Director of the Department of Ecology (who also served as the Director of the PSWQA) stated that there was a “hidden agenda” in appointing the Marine Science Panel and that was to “urge Victoria to get on with secondary treatment.” She stated that the panel came back and said that Victoria really was not a problem. Instead of expressing relief, she said that ‘we were very disappointed’, that ‘it was politically tough’, and that ‘we need to be careful what we ask’. “Hopefully (Loehr added) this total disregard for science does not represent the views of the same offices today, as there is a new Governor and a new Director of the Department of Ecology. What is more likely is that neither the new Governor nor the new Director of the Department of Ecology even know anything about the British Columbia/Washington Marine Science Panel’s conclusions in this matter.”
Site-specific conditions count
In the conclusion to his article, Loehr states that “Expenditures for upgrades to secondary treatment for municipal discharges to Puget Sound are in the range of $1 billion US.” He continues: “neither Canada nor any other country should look to Washington State for an example of a rational way to manage its waste discharges. Rather, they should look to site-specific conditions to evaluate what combination of tools (including dilution and screening) best addresses real water quality needs. The NRC report can be a useful tool for British Columbia if they will consider it.
“Efforts are needed to educate and inform the public better so future decisions might provide a more effective allocation of scarce resources to address real problems and to allow ourselves the luxury of not spending resources needlessly on non-problems. It is possible to re-examine past actions and learn from them in order to adjust future actions accordingly.”