SEWAGE IN THE CRD: Pressure on to find a solution

This is the first instalment of our five-part investigative series on issues surrounding sewage in the CRD

As discussions continue around how to achieve sewage treatment for the core areas of the Capital Regional District, it’s interesting that many local residents still wonder why it’s needed at all.

Set aside for a moment that the federal government has mandated that Greater Victoria and other coastal communities in Canada undertake treatment to at least the secondary level.

The CRD currently gathers flows of sewage and drain water at Clover and Macaulay points, where the solids are screened out and the liquid is forced through outfalls that empty roughly a kilometre out into the ocean at a depth of about 65 metres (213 feet). Supporters of this system, including leading marine biologists, have been characterized by opponents as promoting the notion that “dilution is the solution.”

Given the roughly $1 billion estimated cost just to set up a treatment system, some residents find themselves further questioning the need.

The majority, however, argue that it’s just the right thing to do, but outside voices, such as from Washington state, have added to the noise.

While we’re not at treatment yet, we’re far ahead of where we were in the late 1960s, when sewage pipes emptied at our shorelines and caused regular beach closures. Screening out the solids and forcing the liquids a kilometre out into the deep ocean represented steps in the right direction in the 1970s.

On March 9 the CRD approved a two-plant system with facilities at Clover Point in Victoria, and McLoughlin or Macaulay points in Esquimalt. Taxpayers could be excused for wondering how either site found its way into the discussion, when neither was included on a list of seven options presented.

A clue came during a meeting of the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee last month.

Directors grilled engineering consultants over total costs, with some asking why a vacant Rock Bay industrial site was central to all seven options. Technical oversight panel chair, Teresa Coady, stated that better options including Clover and McLoughlin/Macaulay could have been created had consultants not been told those areas were “off the table.”

That got committee members thinking about the potential for a hybrid plan that took advantage of the fact the two sites are in close proximity to existing sewage outfalls. It would also avoid the need for $250 million to rip up Cook Street from Dallas Road to Bay Street for pipes.

Local politicians appeared to be looking out for their taxpayers. Some pointed to the project charter, developed last October, which states as one of its goals that any solution should “minimize (construction and operating) costs to residents and businesses … and provide value for money.”

Feedback from an online survey and written correspondence determined residents are most concerned with how the project will affect their taxes. Showing it’s not all about the money, the level of quality of effluent discharged into the ocean was also of high importance.

This may be the closest Greater Victoria has come to acheiving the goal. Success is not a given, with rezoning still needed in Victoria and Esquimalt councils for Clover and McLoughlin points, respectively. Macaulay, which would require a land swap with the Department of National Defence, appears a dark-horse contender.

So does this scenario resemble 2014, when McLoughlin was chosen for a single regional plant, but shot down when Esquimalt council rejected the rezoning? Perhaps, but that plan also located the biosolids plant on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, and the single plant was larger than under the current proposal.

The coming weeks will provide more insight as the two councils hear from the public on the proposed plan. The fact remains, the government requires us to treat our sewage, and the region needs to find a workable solution.

Sewage in the CRD: A timeline

1894 Clover Point trunk system and outfall built to service downtown Victoria

1913 – Second trunk system added to service Oak Bay, northeast Victoria and parts of Saanich

1919 – Northwest trunk sewer system built to service parts of Esquimalt, Victoria and Saanich

1960s – Untreated sewage continues to be discharged directly at shorelines

1971 – Macaulay Point pump station and outfall constructed. Outfall extends 1.7 kilometres into Juan de Fuca Strait, effluent released at a depth of 60 metres

1981 – Clover Point outfall built, extends 1.2 kilometres offshore to 65m depth; solids filtered out using 6mm fine screen

1984 – B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Environment invites all municipalities and regional districts to consider preparation of waste management plans

1990 – CRD board undertakes study into sewage treatment options

1991 – Report offers seven different siting options for wastewater plants

1992 – Non-binding referendum sees 57% support for current preliminary treatment model (screening), 22% for secondary treatment and 21% for primary treatment

1993 – Washington State tourism boycotts Victoria for conferences, hotel bookings. B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt promises Wash. Gov. Mike Lowry that Victoria will have primary treatment in place by 2002 and secondary between 2008 and 2013.

– Seven potential sites identified and approved by CRD board, including Macaulay Point.

1995 – Three possible main plant sites remain, including Macaulay Point, Burnside West and Yew Point in Colwood.

2004 – Poop mascot Mr. Floatie, a.k.a. James Skwarok, begins protesting the pumping of untreated sewage into ocean. Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reviews CRD wastewater management. SETAC concludes that relying on dilution and natural dispersion is not a good long-term solution. A Ministry of Environment sediment study finds enough evidence to classify areas around both outfalls as contaminated sites.

2007 – The Path Forward report describes a decentralized, six-plant system estimated at $1.2 billion, using Hartland dump as biosolids processing facility.

2008 – Esquimalt, after a presentation from Sewage Treatment Action Group (STAG), lobbies to have Macaulay option shifted to McLoughlin Point due to environmental, social and financial impacts.

2010 – Comprehensive tertiary treatment removed from plan due to lack of market for recovered water in the region. Further refinements improve triple bottom line output for project.

– In June, plan for West Shore treatment plant deferred for 15 years, helping bring the cost down to $782.7 million.

2011 – Discussions begin around community amenities for Esquimalt relating to hosting a treatment plant at McLoughlin, in advance of further public engagement with local residents.

2012 – Provincial ($248M) and federal ($253.4 M) funding announced, project mandated to be completed by 2018. Federal government soon after announces regulations requiring coastal communities to have secondary treatment in place by the end of 2020.

2013 – The core area liquid waste management program, renamed Seaterra in October, begins overseeing public engagement and implementation.

– CRD purchases Viewfield Road property in Esquimalt for $17M as potential biosolids processing site. After receiving plant design suggestions, CRD purchases McLoughlin Point site from Imperial Oil for $4.6M.

– Esquimalt hosts two-day public hearing on rezoning of McLoughlin to allow for a treatment plant. Alternate bylaw ultimately created stipulating Township’s terms; official community plan amended, bylaw passes.

2014 – After another two-day public hearing, Esquimalt council rejects CRD’s more project-specific application for rezoning McLoughlin. Sewage committee seeks direction from B.C. on how to move forward. Ministry of Environment states it will not intervene and CRD announces it will not proceed with project at McLoughlin.

– CRD board chair Alistair Bryson proposes a cost-sharing amendment that would see Esquimalt residents not taxed to pay for the Town’s 6.7% share of the project, worth $18.9 million, instead of providing a list of amenities as previously offered. Esquimalt ultimately rejects request to reconsider its decision on rezoning.

– First meeting of Westside wastewater and resource recovery select committee held in October. Members are from Colwood, Esquimalt, Langford, View Royal and Songhees Nation.

2015 – Seaterra staff terminated as CRD tries to retool process and a way forward.

– Eastside committee begins meeting.

– In April, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps takes over as chair of liquid waste management committee from Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

– In May, potential treatment sites revealed by municipalities; many parks put forward. Eastside and Westside undertake surveys relating to possible sites.

2016 – Seven options put forward for public consideration; all include plant at Rock Bay.

– Online commenting closes Feb. 20. Results see less than enthusiastic responses to including Rock Bay.

– CRD staff recommend main plant at Rock Bay and tertiary treatment plant in Colwood to sewage committee. Directors instead ask for feasibility report on McLoughlin/Macaulay and Clover Point treatment sites.

– Sewage committee tweaks plan and approves recommendation to move forward with Clover and McLoughlin/Macaulay plan with provision for site on West Shore.

– Committee’s recommendation approved by overall CRD board on March 9.

Share your thoughts

Get the dialogue going. Send your opinions on this series to don.descoteau@blackpress.ca or call 250-478-9552 ext 224. You can also post comments to the Facebook or Twitter pages of your Black Press community newspaper. Please include your name and a telephone number for verification.