CHANCE TO RETHINK SEWAGE TREATMENT
- TAKING OUT THE TRASH
- BIOSPHERE COULD ADD MORE COMPLICATIONS
- 55% HIKE IN HYDRO BILLS TO COVER 'MUCH-NEEDED PROJECTS'
CHANCE TO RETHINK SEWAGE TREATMENT
David R. Cohen
December 05, 2010
With Barry Penner gone from the Environment Ministry and the Liberal party in disarray, perhaps the government will drop its ill-considered plan to spend our taxes on a sewage treatment project we don't need and is more than likely to do more damage to our environment than good.
We have many social issues with which to contend. The money to be spent on the billion-dollar sewage treatment boondoggle would go a long way toward dealing with some of them.
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to the way we treat sewage. Victoria has a unique situation in Canada, similar to that in San Diego, where the ocean naturally processes the sewage in an environmentally friendly manner that poses no significant threat to marine life. It is vital the federal government also be made to see reason.
This whole controversy is more to do with Victoria's image than about what is right for the environment.
It's time to tell the public and our neighbours in Washington state that we have a unique situation and to listen to those scientists and medical authorities telling us that there isn't a problem with our current sewage treatment program.
David R. Cohen
BIOSPHERE COULD ADD MORE COMPLICATIONS
December 05, 2010
Let's think before we jump at the proposal to declare the capital region a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
UNESCO's website says: "Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use." They also call them "living laboratories."
This job requires management. UNESCO itself declares, "it is necessary to set up an appropriate governance mechanism, for instance a committee or board, to plan and co-ordinate all the activities of all the actors concerned."
UVic's Environmental Law Centre puts it more gently. "Reserves can play an important aspirational role when legal decisions are being made about development." Through the word-fog another player with an "aspirational role" emerges.
Meanwhile, the CRD is rebranding its Regional Growth Strategy as Regional Sustainability Strategy. We have the feds, the province, the morphing CRD, 13 municipalities already with environmental programs, and now oncoming, UNESCO. Do we need another layer of governance? How much sustainability can we sustain?
ARESST: Note that "...digested for use as biogas.." may include demand for the organic solid waste to enhance a sewage sludge energy project.
TAKING OUT THE TRASH
Big changes coming in the way the capital region gets rid of its garbage
December 05, 2010
(Letters to editor: firstname.lastname@example.org )
In Oak Bay, you have a magic decal that gives you access to your own private dump.
In the West Shore, they'll come to your door every day if you're willing to pay for it.
It's by no means a glamorous topic, but garbage is a constant in all of our lives, regardless of where we live, and in Greater Victoria there seem to be as many ways of collecting it as there are municipalities. It ranges from the "Cadillac service" in Saanich and Victoria -- where municipal garbage collectors often run up driveways and cart cans back to a waiting truck-- to the pay-as-you-go service with private companies in most of the West Shore and some of the Saanich Peninsula.
But residential garbage -- what it is, how it's collected and ultimately where it goes -- is on the verge of change. And just how the region's 13 municipalities, with their disparate policies, practices and priorities, deal with it will be decided in the next few months.
Some contracts are expiring and new practices, including collecting kitchen organics from homes, are supposed to start. Add to that rapidly changing technology, aging garbage trucks that need replacement and a move toward curbside pickup instead of backyard service, and it's shaping up to be a year when garbage matters.
Since the first municipal dump was created in 400 BC in Athens, a mile outside the ancient city, dealing with garbage has been a difficult issue for communities. We've dumped it, burned it, shipped it out to sea, recycled it, and now we're focused on minimizing it before we run out of room for it.
"People tend to have the attitude of 'out of sight, out of mind' and we can't afford that any more as a society," says Victoria councillor Chris Coleman, who did graduate work studying sustainability. "We're recognizing that with the size of our globe, we can't afford to be a throwaway society. We can't just keep buying and throwing away. The ecological impact and social cost of not addressing and managing this properly can't be underestimated."
Our attitude toward garbage has changed significantly over the last 25 years, particularly with the move toward recycling.
In the region, each individual municipality is responsible for its own garbage collection. In the four core municipalities -- Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt -- municipal staff collect refuse. Sidney and View Royal don't have their own garbage staff, but they contract to a private company on behalf of all residents. The remaining municipalities leave it up to residents to organize service for themselves.
All of that garbage ends up in one space, the Hartland landfill in Saanich. It has been run by the Capital Regional District since 1985.
The 329-hectare property started as a private dump in the 1950s, but under the CRD has become an international model for landfills, with numerous awards for how it's run. It's the only landfill for the region, serves over 100,000 customers a year and about half of its content is residential refuse. In 2009 alone, Hartland received more than 140,000 tonnes of residential solid waste.
Residents and municipal governments pay to dump refuse there, and that money funds landfill operations as well as the successful blue box recycling program.
That program was started in 1989 by the CRD, and provides curbside pickup of recyclables around the region. When it began, it served just Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay and Esquimalt, and only picked up glass bottles and jars, tin and aluminum cans and newspaper.
Since 2000, it has served all 13 municipalities and it now picks up everything from pizza boxes (about two million a year) to rigid plastic packaging. A 2001 survey found that 90 per cent of eligible households used the service.
So far, recycling has diverted 200,000 tonnes of what would previously have been garbage from the landfill -- about the weight of 40,000 elephants.
But even with these strides, Hartland will be at capacity by 2035 if no changes are made. Paper still makes up 16 per cent of the waste, but it is organic kitchen waste, items such as meat, dairy and soiled paper products, that account for a whopping 30 per cent of the landfill.
Finding an alternative way to deal with that organic waste has become key for the region. Oddly enough, it's also become the tail wagging the dog when it comes to how overall garbage collection could be dealt with.
The CRD wants to have kitchen organics banned from the landfill by the spring of 2012, a move that is expected to extend the life of Hartland by five years. The spring of 2012 is also when the CRD's contract with the company that collects the recycling is up. The timing seemed right to include organic pickup in the tender call for the next contract.
Instead of going into the landfill, the kitchen scraps could be used to create compost or digested for use as biogas. Several cities have successful curbside collection of kitchen scraps, including San Francisco, Seattle, Halifax and Toronto. Locally, Ladysmith and Nanaimo are doing it. And a pilot project done in Oak Bay and View Royal between 2006 and 2008 was so successful that after it finished, many households carried on with the program on their own.
Although there's philosophical support for the kitchen organics program, some CRD board members worry about the cost and timing of such a project.
Preliminary estimates suggest having curbside kitchen organics pickup would cost an additional $3.3 million to $4.3 million a year for the region. That translates to about $50 per household. In a recession, and with other costs such as sewage treatment and transportation hikes looming, that's too much to add, says Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders.
"This will fly like a lead balloon with people," Saunders says. "These are tough times for people and we have to tighten our belts."
While banning kitchen scraps would buy time for the landfill, it would also reduce its revenue, which could result in increased tipping fees. Already, many municipalities deal with people dumping garbage on the roadside rather than paying the fee.
Langford councillor Denise Blackwell argues there are too many issues converging now to move ahead with kitchen scrap collection. Technology dealing with how to convert scraps to energy is advancing so rapidly, any program set up in the next year or two could soon be obsolete, Blackwell says.
There are logistical issues as well: Who would collect the scraps? Would it be up to the CRD because it collects recyclables? Or the municipal garbage collectors?
Like so many things that are region-wide, it's fraught with complications. Some suggest it might be time for the CRD to take over all refuse collection -- after all, it has the one-size-fits-all recycling program in place. But that could spell labour trouble -- the garbage collectors in Esquimalt, Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich are unionized -- and it would also mean residents in the West Shore, Central Saanich and North Saanich would lose the ability to set up their own garbage services.
It could even influence what type of garbage trucks will be bought in the future. Saanich, for example, is waiting for a decision on kitchen scraps and how they would be collected before investing in new vehicles.
And if garbage pickup was regionalized, some of those quirks that residents love could be lost.
Saanich and Victoria are among the last municipalities in Canada to collect garbage from residents' backyards -- it's a service that most customers love, but which is taking its toll on workers, who suffer more injuries, and that impacts budgets, which are always stretched. Esquimalt too has backyard service but it's under review. Both Victoria and Saanich are considering moving to curbside pickup because while most of their collectors literally run up driveways to get the cans, it still takes longer than the system used in Oak Bay, where totes that are prescribed by the municipality are set curbside and dumped into the truck with an automated system.
Oak Bay's service might be less personal, but it costs the most of the six municipalities that charge for collection. That's in part because the $204-a-year cost gives residents access to one of the municipality's hidden attractions: the municipal dump. Only residents can access the dump, on a prime piece of real estate at the end of Elgin Avenue. Residents need a decal on their vehicle, which is only given after a person provides proof of residence.
The dump is such a part of Oak Bay life that municipal politicians are known to campaign there during elections, when it becomes a virtual outdoor coffee shop.
Meanwhile, in the West Shore, residents love that they can organize their own garbage pickup based on how much waste they have and when they want it picked up.
"It's great," says Saunders. "It's competitive and residents say very clearly to me that the private sector offers a great service."
Citizens like controlling how much they pay by how much garbage they produce, he says, and it likely makes people much more diligent recyclers. He points to his own household, saying his family creates only one bag of garbage every two weeks.
Prices for private collection vary, but seem to average about $200 a year for bi-weekly two-can pickup. "Bi-weekly is the most popular, but people can customize their service," says David Ridley of Neighbourhood Disposal.
Ultimately, any changes to how the region handles its garbage will be contentious, and no solution will be perfect for everyone, but politicians warn that it has to happen sooner rather than later.
"There will be political blowback on any change made to service," Coleman says. "But people need to wrap their minds around the fact that once Hartland is filled, we have no plans to build another landfill."
55% HIKE IN HYDRO BILLS TO COVER 'MUCH-NEEDED PROJECTS'
December 05, 2010
The cost of electricity in B.C. homes -- powering things such as heating,
cooking and lighting -- is projected to rise by as much as 55 per cent
over five years, B.C. Hydro forecasts.
"To pay for much-needed projects, we need to increase rates, while still
looking at every way to keep them among the lowest in North America,"
Hydro president Dave Cobb said in a statement Friday.
The projections, which are contained in Hydro's five-year outlook compiled
for the B.C. Utilities Commission, brought cries of alarm from a watchdog
"Fifty-five per cent over five years is frightening," said Leigha Worth of
the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (http://bcpiac.com/).
"We've seen some incredible jumps for bills in poorly insulated older
homes. More people are going to face the heat-or-eat dilemma," Worth said.
Hydro says the projected increases, which would need to be approved by the
utilities commission, are part of its plan to pay for $6 billion in new
generating, transmission and distribution equipment over the next three
The anticipated hikes mean that the average $71 monthly residential bill
could rise to $92 by 2013.
Industry critics aren't buying the power company's explanations about
1950s-era equipment needing to be updated.
Worth said major factors include government-mandated plans for making
Hydro self-sufficient by 2016 and directing it to build extra capacity for
the times when reservoirs are low.
"The government has also mandated Hydro must be an energy exporter to the
U.S.," she said.
As part of the export plan, Hydro has been entering into long-term
contracts with independent B.C. power producers for as much as $120 per
B.C.'s big businesses, however, say the purchase price is roughly double
what the long-term rate promises to be.
In their submission to the commission earlier this year, the Joint
Industry Electricity Steering Committee contended Hydro could overpay by
as much as $450 million annually.
Hydro believes, however, it will make money overall through export, even
though some contracts may lose money.
Hydro says an upcoming $1-billion smart-meter program for residences --
which will track individual power use at peak periods -- will pay for
But NDP energy critic John Horgan said it's also part of the reason costs
"Hydro needs money to pay for all their expensive purchases -- and they're
finding it in our pockets," said Horgan, who spent a decade with the B.C.
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