Though CRD sewage effluent meets provincial standards for marine discharge within the initial dilution zone (100 metres from the outfalls), recurring concerns over “dumping raw sewage into the ocean” led to studies and monitoring in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Evidence suggests the present combination of source control and marine treatment works well, showing major reductions of toxins in effluent and a steady improvement in marine sediments.
Concerns persisted, and in 2006-07, BC’s MOE directed the CRD to submit plans for land-based sewage treatment. The CRD went further, committing to a billion dollar plan without a cost-benefit analysis – partly in anticipation of new federal “one size fits all” regulations.
Though storm-water runoff drains are known by UVic and CRD scientists to be considerably more contaminated than the sewage outfalls, the CRD has no authority to regulate storm-water, nor do the draft federal regulations address it.
The current plan is lacking and riddled with problems. It began as a solution in search of a problem and missed the point. At close to $1 Billion, it accomplishes little more than reduce organic loading, which, while important in locations such as the Okanagan, offers no benefit to Victoria’s receiving environment. Efforts to identify and prioritize environmental problems were abandoned before committing to a costly program which will tie managers’ hands for decades. There is little doubt that a Triple-Bottom-Line assessment, using our current wastewater management system as a reference, would confirm the pointlessness of focusing on organic loading at the exclusion of meaningful environmental initiatives. Such an assessment, rather than just addressing sanitary sewage alone, should consider all sources and all discharges and focus on identifying actions with the most favourable environmental impact.
There are numerous opportunities for the Minister to launch initiatives with real and significant environmental benefits at a fraction of the cost of land-based sewage treatment for Victoria; initiatives that would put BC at the forefront of responsible waste water management. To list a few such opportunities:
- Expand the Source Control Program, presently concentrated on commercial activity, to include institutions and residences, and substances not presently collected
- Establish specialized wastewater treatment facilities at major contaminant point-sources such as hospitals and food-processing plants
- Encourage natural rainwater treatment methods such as swales and artificial wetlands
- Expand programs to upgrade antiquated sewage and storm-water infrastructure to reduce onshore sewage outflow during heavy rain events and ensure overflows meet accepted pollution standards.