Leadership needed in sewage issue

Implementation of the proposed land-based sewage treatment plan for the core area of the Capital Regional District is stalled.


After Esquimalt council refused the necessary zoning, the CRD announced it would not proceed with a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. This means that the treatment plan has to be completely revised and a new liquid waste management plan submitted to the provincial minister of environment.


The Seaterra Commission, which was to have implemented the approved plan, does not have a mandate to do anything until a new plan is developed by the CRD.


Following the municipal elections on Nov. 15, there will be a new CRD board and Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee. This will provide an opportunity for the newly elected members to rethink the whole process — providing we have elected people willing to champion this approach.


The scrapped plan has a published estimate of $788.5 million in capital costs and ongoing operating costs of $14.5 million. Tragically, at least $60 million has been spent by the CRD on this plan. The costs of a revised plan are bound to be more than $1 billion for land-based treatment that will have no measurable benefit to the marine environment. And a net negative effect on the combined marine, land and global environments.


Since 2006, when the CRD was ordered by the province to come up with a plan for land-based treatment, the judgment of marine scientists, public health officials and engineers has largely been ignored.


Very credible marine scientists, including several from the University of Victoria, have presented convincing evidence that the present practice of discharging the liquid waste (which is 99 per cent water and has preliminary treatment by screening) into the marine waters off Victoria is causing only a minimal effect on the ocean floor.


These carefully considered opinions, based on the best science, are that the present discharge into the unique marine receiving environment off Victoria is highly effective in treating the effluent without the need for land-based treatment.


Given the enormous cost of any sewage treatment plan, we should challenge those seeking local office to champion an approach to sewage treatment that is based on using the best available science.


This is a difficult path for those seeking office. Many believe that any amount of sewage in the water is unacceptable and a risk to our health and the marine environment. But this is not an evidence-based approach — challenging this view will take political courage.


The new 2015 CRD board should show real leadership and find a way around the overarching regulatory environment.


The federal regulations are based on “one size fits all” thinking and do not acknowledge that some areas of Canada, like Victoria, have unique receiving environments. We have an example here of regulations that are not based on the best science. Again, challenging this view will take political courage.


A critical aspect of a science-based approach to protecting the marine environment would also address the issue of chemicals of concern. There is much uncertainty as to the extent to which extra treatment will address this issue. The first step should be to determine the present measurable effect of any chemical of concern in the marine environment. Just because substances can be detected in minute amounts is not enough to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars unless there is evidence of an effect that will be prevented.


It is time to find an opportunity to influence the regulators on this important issue for Victoria taxpayers. Let’s elect local politicians this November who are truly committed to environmental integrity and common-sense fiscal management.


Dr. Shaun Peck was the medical officer of health for the Capital Regional District from 1989 to 1995.