Not all agree with CRD sewage risk numbers

Board chair looks to move forward, opponent argues points system flawed

As the Capital Regional District continues to explore its options for sewage treatment, board chair Barb Desjardins has noticed the same question continues to arise – is this really necessary?

The question prompted the CRD to ask federal officials for clarification on the reasons why Victoria has been deemed high risk, forcing the region to move towards secondary sewage treatment by 2020 in order to comply with wastewater regulations.

In a responding letter, Jonathon Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change, outlined the points system that allocates the level of risk based on science criteria for effluent quality, quantity and receiving environmental considerations.

Wilkinson notes the total risk points allocated for Macaulay Point and Clover Point (where the current sewage outfalls are located) were 126 and 112. If 70 points or more were allocated, the deadline to upgrade is Dec. 31, 2020.

Nonetheless, some members of the public and scientists who’ve studied the ocean for years continue to dispute Victoria’s classification, but Desjardins said the reality is it has to get done.

“It hasn’t particularly satisfied people that in fact we do need to treat,” she said, “so we wanted to get clarity, because the last time we got that information was a number of years ago and it’s obviously faded from the public’s minds.”

With no other alternative, she said, “We are trying to put that to rest so we can focus on how do we move forward and have everyone on the same page?”

View Royal resident Brian Burchill chairs the Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment (ARESST). He has long sided with local scientists who say our current method of discharging screened sewage into a tidal ocean is appropriate for now and shows negligible signs of harming human or marine health.

Hearing the CRD confirm that the region needs to treat by 2020, based on what is essentially a high-risk designation under the federal regulations, left him shaking his head.

“This is a reiteration of what the CRD already has in its paperwork,” he said of Wilkinson’s letter. Not only did the document not reveal anything new, Burchill said, “what he has not addressed is do these risk categories even make sense?”

In regular contact with University of Victoria marine scientists, Burchill said he’s asked the biologists about the points-based classification tables and was told they wouldn’t even consider using such a blanket criteria without adding more detailed localized data.

He pointed out that the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment, in their national strategy for municipal wastewater management that was used to create the federal regulations, did not place an ocean discharge-receiving environment in the high risk category, only in the low or medium risk scenarios.

The federal regulations do not use those terms, instead using the points system to determine how long communities working toward treatment have to get it done. The deadlines are Dec. 31, 2030 for those scoring between 50 and 70 points, and Dec. 31, 2040 for those scoring less than 50.

The CRD is currently exploring a two-plant approach that calls for secondary or tertiary plants at either McLoughlin or Macaulay Point in Esquimalt and Clover Point in Victoria. A third facility would eventually be constructed somewhere on the West Shore. The current estimated cost is pegged around $1 billion.

According to Environment Canada, 2,650 wastewater systems in the country are subject to the regulations and an estimated 75 per cent of the existing systems are already at the secondary level of treatment. Those that don’t come into compliance by the targeted date could face enforcement.

– with files from Don Descoteau