- CRD BOARD INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES REPORT
- ENVIRONMENT CANADA REGULATIONS COME WITH STEEP COSTS
- SEATTLE SEWAGE UPDATE: COSTLY SEWER PROGRAM MAY HAVE LITTLE BENEFIT
ARESST: CRD Board Infrastructure Priorities report attached with no mention of sewage plant, perhaps because the sewage plant would not be for the whole CRD.
CRD Infrastructure review initiated by Mayor Fortin at CRD Board 29 June meeting:
Director Fortin introduced the issue. He commented that he and some of the other Mayors are concerned that that this region may not be getting its fair share of infrastructure funding from the federal and provincial governments, for such things as affordable housing and transportation, because it is perceived as fractured.
To overcome this, he proposed that staff be asked to bring forward options for a process to develop five to seven priorities for the region as a whole. The priorities could be broader than the usual local government (municipal and regional) capital projects and gas tax funding projects in order to include broader community priorities. An example was the airport runway extension.
There was consensus for staff to prepare a report on options for a process to develop priorities for the region.
CRD BOARD INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES REPORT
CRD Board Meeting 10 August 2011
6.6 SETTING INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES FOR THE CAPITAL REGIONAL DISTRICT
That staff be directed to organize and undertake a process to identify infrastructure priorities for the region as set out in Option 2 of the August 10, 2011 staff report titled, Setting Infrastructure Priorities for the Capital Regional District (PPS/RP 2011-10).
ENVIRONMENT CANADA REGULATIONS COME WITH STEEP COSTS
Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, NB)
August 5th, 2011
While Environment Canada tries to stem the flow of raw sewage into our nation's waters, municipalities are left worrying over the looming bill.
The agency is tweaking proposed regulations that will crack down on the 150 billion litres of sewage that sneaks into our waterways each year. But it comes with a hefty price tag: $20 billion in 20 years in municipal upgrades.
David Hanson, president of the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities and mayor of Rexton, said the new rules are "contentious."
In Rexton, a town where mostly everyone uses private wells, Hanson said the cost of installing a system from scratch is "tremendous." He doesn't know how New Brunswick's municipalities will be able to afford the sewage and water treatment overhauls.
"Determining the cost is one thing," he said. "Determining how to pay is another."
He said towns and cities are mired in a Catch-22. Required by law to meet a certain standard, but without the funding to do so, he's not sure how municipalities will move forward.
"Eventually we will have to do something, somehow," he said.
As part of federal stimulus funding in 2009, 63 infrastructure projects broke ground in New Brunswick municipalities, said infrastructure project manager François Godin with the department of environment.
The projects, equally funded by federal, provincial and municipal governments, included several waste-water upgrades.
Godin said everything approved under the stimulus program was up to proposed environmental codes even though the regulations are not yet law.
"We knew what kind of things they were looking for," he said, noting planners had a draft of the new regulations.
"We didn't want to come back next year and put in another million into something to upgrade it," he said.
While those projects may be up to code, other elements of municipal waste and sewage treatment may not be.
This week, Saint John asked Ottawa for a $9.6-million grant to help revamp the city's sewage system, pegged at a cost of nearly $29 million.
It is such weighty prices that the Canadian Federation of Municipalities wants to keep off the laps of the country's towns.
Currently discussing a cost-sharing plan with the federal government, the federation praised Environment Canada's inclusive approach to drafting new regulations.
"The federal government needs to take the same collaborative approach when it comes time to pay the more than $20 billion cost of upgrading waste-water systems to meet these new regulations," stated the federation's president, Berry Vrbanovic, in an email.
Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said the plan will be phased in gradually. The worst systems, he said, would have to be upgraded by 2020, while systems in better shape would have until 2040. The time would give municipalities time to raise funds.
"Putting new regulations in place is a complex task and the details are important," Johnson wrote in an email. "It is important that we get this right."
SEATTLE SEWAGE UPDATE: COSTLY SEWER PROGRAM MAY HAVE LITTLE BENEFIT
Lynda V. Mapes
30 July 2011
Seattle and King County are poised to spend more than $1.3 billion of ratepayer money on pollution-cleanup programs that won't even move the water-quality needle in Puget Sound.
The programs are intended to contain so-called combined sewer overflows (CSOs). An occasional source of pollution, CSO discharges occur primarily during heavy rains. Stormwater mixes with wastewater, including raw sewage, and overflows through outfall pipes to local water bodies, and eventually to Puget Sound.
But surface runoff, not CSO discharge, is the single largest source of pollution to Puget Sound, according to the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency charged with cleaning up and restoring Puget Sound, and the state Department of Ecology (DOE). Carrying contaminants such as copper, zinc, oil, lawn fertilizers and animal waste, surface runoff barrels untreated from storm drains all over the city into Puget Sound, not just in heavy storms but nearly every time it rains.
The city and county already have spent hundreds of millions of dollars containing CSO discharges, and have greatly reduced their effect. Today, in the partnership's Action Agenda for Puget Sound, CSOs don't rank in the top 10 or even the top 20 things to do to reduce water pollution in Puget Sound.
Projects planned by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) will raise utility rates — already among the highest in the country — more than $8 a month by 2012 to complete the city's $500 million CSO program by 2025.
Meanwhile, King County has just raised its cost estimate for nine new planned CSO projects — which go to the County Council this fall — to $711 million, up 75 percent since its last estimate for the work in 1999. More projects in the works have ballooned in cost to $103 million from an estimated $36 million in 1999.
Some question whether it makes sense to spend so much more on CSOs, when Puget Sound faces bigger problems.
"It's time to call the question," said Pam Bissonnette, former director of Natural Resources and Parks for King County, and now a private environmental consultant.
"You could take probably half the money we are spending on the CSO program, and go upstream and correct stormwater problems and have a bigger impact on the (Duwamish) river and water quality than the CSO program. We need a cost-benefit analysis, an honest-to-God one, and say, look, this is the highest and best use of that dollar, if the concern is water quality."
Discharges far lower
The amount of CSO discharge entering Puget Sound today is estimated at about 1 billion gallons a year — down from about 30 times that in the 1960s.
To be sure, no one likes the idea of spewing raw sewage or other pollutants into the water, and even small amounts of some pollutants, such as copper, can have a big effect. Local utility administrators say that the Clean Water Act compels them to control pollution. And Christie True, director of King County Natural Resources and Parks, says upcoming CSO projects will prevent localized, short-term exposure to CSO discharges for people swimming, kayaking or playing in the water near an outfall. "We can't ignore local effects."
The goal of CSO control projects in general is to contain the overflow in storage until storms subside and it can be routed to sewage-treatment plants. Other projects reduce the amount of stormwater entering the drainage system, to make overflows less frequent. The projects today continue work that's been under way for a generation.
What is punitively expensive now is driving to the last percentages of improvement. Dozens of combined sewer overflow-control projects are planned all over the city for the next 15 years.
Ray Hoffman, director of Seattle Public Utilities, says he's convinced the $170 million his agency will spend on projects in Lake Washington over the next five years makes sense for a water body without tides and in which pollutants can linger well after storms end.
How many, not how much
Part of what's driving all the proposed new spending is a 1988 Department of Ecology mandate that addresses not the effect of CSO discharges but their frequency.
King County manages 38 CSO outfall pipes and Seattle manages 90 that discharge into Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Duwamish River, Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. The state regulation says governments must get rid of discharges until there is an average of one untreated discharge per year per outfall.
Kevin Clark, from 1987 to 1994, managed what today is Seattle Public Utilities. Clark was involved in discussions to set the state regulation, but he has doubts about it today: "I am all for asking if capturing the last few overflows is the best use of limited public money. We ought to have a big old rousing debate. There is a tremendous amount of money being spent on this. Are we getting the best bang for the buck?"
He offers this example: Just one storage tank in a $52 million CSO project for SPU across from Magnuson Park will control, on average, 4 million to 6 million gallons of overflow in two to three storm events a year — at a cost of $22 million. He said there's nothing magical — or scientific — about the state mandate of one overflow per year per location. "I just wanted something I could explain to the newspapers," he said. "One everywhere was nice and simple."
But Larry Phillips, a member of the County Council who has spent years on water-quality issues, said even if other approaches make sense, wastewater ratepayer dollars available for CSO projects can't be spent on other programs, such as buying habitat or attacking the larger surface-runoff problem.
CSOs and surface runoff are different kinds of dirty water, addressed with different sources of money — and even though it's all headed to Puget Sound, the dollars aren't allowed, under current rules, to follow the pollution.
Launching a big debate about that or Seattle's CSO programs could backfire, Phillips said, noting the Legislature has just turned its back for the third year in a row on a fee to raise $100 million a year for stormwater work. "This is what lets people off the hook, it's 'until you guys get all that resolved, let's not do anything on stormwater.' "
Yet Phillips sees the bigger problem coming: "I am not going to kid myself that doing something on CSOs in the last 5 percent of the effort is going to make a dent in Puget Sound on a basinwide basis. That is going to take a much bigger effort."
The city and county now are negotiating agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Ecology to set targets and deadlines for the county and city CSO programs.
"This is just crazy"
Bill Ruckelshaus, two-time national administrator of the EPA, said job No. 1 is spending money cost-effectively and working with federal and state regulators and cleanup activists to do it. "It takes leadership from the top to say, 'Let's make these things work better.' Even the president has said, 'Let's get rid of regulations that don't make any sense.'
"This is just crazy; we don't have unlimited funds in this country, and whatever we do, we ought to spend where we get the most bang for the buck ... cost-benefit has not been part of the discussion."
Ruckelshaus recently stepped down as chairman of the leadership council of the Puget Sound Partnership, where David Dicks, just reappointed to the leadership council and former executive director, also sees a need for a triaged approach. "What we promoted was panning back and figuring out what makes the best sense," Dicks said. "Spend the money there, and work your way down. This is the perfect example of doing the opposite.
"It's just momentum. And what you learn in these things is you can go in and scream and yell and be a revolutionary for a while, but the institutional momentum of these laws has a lot of power, and it is just dumb power. ... What we need to do is turn off the autopilot and see what makes sense here."
At Ruckelshaus' urging, his agency's Action Agenda for Puget Sound nearly two years ago suggested convening regulators and others to come up with a more cost-effective way to improve water quality in urban areas like Seattle and King County. It hasn't happened yet.
Talk of re-examining priorities got started in 2008 under former King County Executive Ron Sims. Then he and others involved in the discussion went on to other jobs, True said. "The whole thing was just dropped."
Dennis McLerran, administrator of EPA Region 10, said he backs staying the course — and piling on the larger stormwater problem, too. Fixing that, especially in the urban core of Puget Sound, will take a range of strategies, many still emerging, with a potential price tag from $3 billion to $16 billion, according to a recent study for the partnership.
Potent rallying cry, but ...
One reason CSO work has received so much money and political support is the yuck factor: Raw sewage in any amount is reliable for rallying the public to pay higher rates for cleanup programs.
Meanwhile, Puget Sound's broader stormwater problem has been an orphan, without either a ratepayer base to tap for money or an easy, two-word rallying cry — raw sewage — to create a constituency.
Challenging the order of priorities has seemed suspect, said Don Theiler, head of King County's wastewater division from 1997 to 2007.
"When you try to talk about it, it sounds like you are trying to shirk your responsibility," Theiler said. "But to be able to document a real benefit that anyone is experiencing from this CSO work is very difficult. When there are overflows, it is mostly winter, and no one is out there swimming, and in terms of drinking the water, nobody does."
Chuck Clarke used to run SPU, and the EPA Region 10 office before that. When he ran SPU, he was startled to realize how small a piece of the stormwater problem that by now CSO discharges represent. "For me, it's about where do you get the biggest increment of benefit?" Clarke said. "I want to get stuff out of Puget Sound."
Ruckelshaus says he wants a fresh approach to the problem. "Governance is the screaming need here," he said. "We need an intervention. Almost like an alcoholic intervention, with all the people in the room and say look, we don't want to spend this money on things that are of lesser value than things that would otherwise make a lot more progress.
"Maybe it's time to pull everybody together and say, 'This is crazy. Let's fix this.' "
COMMENTS (currently 68):
nwsource.com/reader_feedback/ public/display.php?source_ name=mbase&source_id= 2015778941