Marine condition findings clarified by U.S.-based scientist

Former chair of panel confirms lack of firm evidence of harm being done by sewage discharge

I would like to provide some perspective on the importance of the marine waters between B.C. and Washington State, in response to the recently published article, Sewage in the CRD: U.S. neighbours impatient over sewage scenario.”

I served as chair of the British Columbia-Washington Marine Science Panel in the 1990s, appointed by then premier Mike Harcourt and governor Mike Lowry of Washington. My U.S. and Canadian colleagues and I were charged with answering questions about the health and potential for mixing of water, fish and other organisms between the waters of Puget Sound and the Juan de Fuca and Georgia straits, from a scientific perspective. We answered this charge by investigating the issues in an open scientific meeting, consulting with scientists and practitioners working in the area, and extensively examining the scientific literature.

The discharges from two small CRD outfalls into the Strait of Juan de Fuca was one of many aspects we examined.

Based on the evidence: a lack of toxic chemicals in the Clover and Macaulay Point wastewater streams (little industrial activity on the island contributing heavy metals and toxic organics); the discharge method (screening the material to millimetre size, discharging at depth into fast flowing water away from shore); and no monitoring findings that the plume or its effects could be seen more than a few metres from the discharge pipe; we concluded that the discharge was not likely to be harmful to the marine environment, nor be detectable far from the discharge point off Victoria. This was our scientific conclusion, not a politically-driven opinion.

There are other concerns that ought to worry citizens and officials in the waters of the straits and Puget Sound, including water quality degradation from drainage of contaminated road runoff onto beaches, and deterioration in the health of fish and marine mammals due to habitat loss and climate change. These are the issues we highlighted in the early 1990s, and they should remain the priority concerns of today.

Andrea E. Copping, PhD.

Chair, B.C.-Washington Marine Science Panel

Edmonds, Wash.

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