November 30, 2011



ARESST: If climate change is impairing mussel communities in Juan de Fuca Strait near Victoria, might be important to create mussel marine reserves around our two outfalls because thats where mussels are doing well! The CRD's sewage outfall Annual Report 2009 says that, “There was no evidence of significant effects of the Clover Point outfall  on mussel age or reproduction...Mussel communities were generally larger at the outfall than at the reference sites. - 2009 Annual Report


Randy Shore
Victoria Times Colonist
Postmedia News
November 30, 2011

Intertidal habitats in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that were once teeming with mussels, barnacles and hundreds of other species have shrunk by as much as 51 per cent due to rising water temperatures, according to a study by University of B.C. zoologist Chris Harley.

As recently as 50 years ago, mussels and barnacles thrived in thick bands across beaches on Vancouver Island, the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands, providing habitat for up to 300 other species of sea creatures.

Beaches on the relatively cool west coast of Vancouver Island are much as they were five decades ago, but those in the warmer waters further up the strait are in steep decline, according to the article published this week in the journal Science.

The shrunken mussel beds are now home to as few as 10 other species, he said.

As the mussels and barnacles are forced down the beach into cooler waters to stay within a suitable temperature range for their survival, they are being devoured by sea stars that feed at the bottom edge of the intertidal zone.

"Sea stars are the terrors of the intertidal zone," said Harley.

"As it gets hotter you would expect [species] to just move down to lower positions on the shore where they wouldn't be out of the water for so long. But things aren't shifting in unison."

The sea stars are camped out where they have always been, consuming the other species as they are forced by rising temperatures down the beach, out of their predator-free zone.

Harley came across detailed data on intertidal zones in the region collected for a 1959 masters thesis by UBC marine biologist Tom Widdowson, who measured the upper and lower limits of a variety of species at sites throughout the strait. Widdowson supplied Harley with the Google Earth co-ordinates of the exact locations he had studied in 1957 and 1958.

New measurements at those locations were revealing.

"The outer coast, being cool, still supports amazing biodiversity with really wide mussel beds and all kinds of species in them," said Harley.

"But as you come in toward Port Angeles and Sooke [the beds] get narrower and you just find a few [individual mussels] around Victoria and they are gone completely by the time you get to Friday Harbour."

Daily high summer temperatures in the area have increased by 3.5 C degrees over the past 60 years.

Harley erected cages in a few locations to exclude the sea stars and found that the mussel beds and some of the species that thrive in those beds recovered within a year.

"Global warming is already having significant ecological impacts and it's only going to get more dramatic," Harley predicted.

Mussels provide habitat for hundreds of other species that may face extinction when the habitat mussels provide shrinks or vanishes, he said: "A mussel bed is like an apartment complex - for crabs, and other small crustaceans, snails, worms and seaweed."


ARESST: Leaking home oil getting into storm drains and then into a fish-bearing river is a problem that will need attention - but the land-based sewage treatment plant will do nothing to help that! Thousands of Victoria homes have oil tanks and pipes, and storm drains regularly flush tons of automobile oils and greases from the road system.


Kyle Slavin
Saanich News
November 29, 2011 1:41 PM

Chris Bos dunks a large fishing net into Colquitz Creek and pulls it out of the rushing water to reveal a Coho thrashing wildly in the mesh.

“This is a teenager, a Jack” he says, referring to the youthful age of the three-year-old salmon. “He’s protecting the genetics of this river.”

A group of wide-eyed preschoolers listening to his presentation are unfazed by the explanation – their attention is focused on the fish dangling in the net in front of them.

“A salmon!” one girl exclaims excitedly.

Unbeknownst to her and her schoolmates, seeing a good stock of grown salmon in Colquitz Creek is something Bos and two other passionate volunteers have had to work extremely hard to achieve.

At the far end of the short metal footbridge that traverses the creek, a large wooden box partially submerged underwater is the best tool of the trade for the trio of volunteers protecting the natural habitat that thrives in Cuthbert Holmes Park, behind Tillicum Centre.

The box itself is a counting fence. The fish heading back upstream from the ocean via the Gorge waterway are funnelled inside so the volunteers can collect numerical data on the fish returning to spawn.

So far this year 252 fish have turned up in the counting fence. That includes 162 counted last Tuesday alone.

The numbers this year are indicative of a stable habitat.

Last year, only 52 fish returned to spawn, but there have been years where nearly 700 have come back. The volunteers will continue counting fish until mid-December.

“We’re getting one-third adult males return, one-third adult females and one-third Jacks – that’s a good sign for the future population,” Bos says.

“If you don’t know how the health of the creek is, you have no idea if you have to do mitigation (to improve spawning numbers). … Right now you can say it’s a healthy creek.”

Catastrophe strikes Coho-laden creek

But that health is now in jeopardy, as an estimated 1,000 litres of home heating oil leaked into the river last week, killing dozens of fish over the weekend.

“The sight of the salmon at the surface gasping for air and swimming erratically was sickening,” said Dorothy Chambers, who volunteers alongside Bos.

The source of the leak has been tracked to a home on Kenneth Street, said Mike Ippen, Saanich’s director of public works. Crews installed booms at five locations downstream of the spill on Friday to minimize any further environmental impact.

Chambers said the counting fence was covered in oil Sunday, despite assurances from Saanich that steps had been taken to ensure the booms were working.

“The oil was rapidly free-flowing over the band-aids,” she said.

A sixth boom was added Sunday and Ippen is hopeful the worst is over.

“The leak has been found, the (homeowner’s) connection has been isolated from the drainage system, so it could very well be that most of the product is already through the Colquitz. Now it’s dealing with the residue that’s stuck on plants and things like that,” he said.

Adriane Polland, manager of environmental services for Saanich, says the municipality is “a little bit scattered” as to the timeline of events late last week, but says there’s optimism now, as live fish have been spotted between the spill and counting fence.

“It’s our most important watershed, it’s our biggest watershed, and keeping the salmon run going in this system is very important for the salmon, and also as an indicator species of the health of the creek,” she said.

The Ministry of Environment and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) are also looking into the oil spill.

Though leaking heating tanks don’t always come with such environmentally dire consequences, Pollard said Saanich needs to improve its messaging to homeowners to ensure they have their tanks inspected and maintained on a more regular basis.

“The public living in town get a chance to see fish in their natural habitat (in this creek) and this provides an understanding of the impact that urbanization has on our water systems, our watersheds,” she said.

Chambers isn’t sure just how badly the salmon spawn will be affected yet.

Oil’s long-term effect unknown

The salmon, in ideal conditions, would continue swimming up Colquitz Creek, well past Tillicum Centre, and will lay between 3,000 and 5,000 eggs in the waterway near Quick’s Bottom Park and the Royal Oak neighbourhood. The adult fish then reach the end of their life cycle and their carcasses provide the creek with nutrients.

Bos, Chambers and fellow volunteer Barrie Goodwin don’t just count the number of fish, they also identify the species and sex, measure each one, and inspect its visual health (looking for such things as bite marks or net and hook marks).

All that information is then provided to the DFO to help with monitoring of the national fish stock.

“What they do for us is huge,” says Tom Rutherford, acting sector head for community involvement and resource restoration with DFO. “We have a mandate to protect fish and fish habitat, and it’s easy for us to protect it if we know the fact that there’s a vibrant run in that system. It gives our regulatory folks a leg up to make sure we protect the habitat that’s there.

“The Colquitz project is a highly urban system. It goes past Tillicum Mall, under the Trans-Canada – it’s not pristine wilderness. These small runs of urban salmon are important to us,” Rutherford adds.

Bos calls their contribution just “one piece of the jigsaw” to ensure enhancements are made – both streamside and oceanside – so the fish have a better chance at survival now and in the future.

If it weren’t for the trio of volunteers who are creekside daily counting the fish, the gravity of the oil spill may not have been known for some time and the environmental impact could have been even more severe.

“The counting fence has been removed so the Coho can try to escape back out to the ocean.  They will die, they will not spawn, but we cannot keep them heading upstream into such a toxic environment,” Chambers said. “We are very worried that it will kill this year’s salmon run.”



City's effort to improve sewage treatment dates back nearly 50 years

State convinced Portsmouth to abandon its improvements in 1982

Charles McMahon
Seacoast, New Hampshire
November 27, 2011

PORTSMOUTH — It was 1982 and the city was on the verge of building a new wastewater plant capable of performing secondary treatment.

The plant was fully designed and 95 percent funded. Had it been built, many of the city's current wastewater woes would be nonexistent. But that never happened, according to Peter Rice, an engineer with the city's water and sewer division. Instead, the state asked the city to apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for a 301h waiver that would all but absolve the city of its duties for secondary treatment, Rice said.

The request is documented in a letter from the state. The letter sits in one of nearly a dozen binders holding various reports and studies conducted by the city's wastewater experts over the last 30 years.

It represents one of many twists and turns city officials say they have encountered since the Clean Water Act was established in 1972.

The history of the city's wastewater efforts effectively began in 1964, when the Peirce Island plant was built. The plant was designed to provide advanced primary treatment that removes grit, suspended solids and grease from the wastewater and then disinfects it before discharging it into the Piscataqua River.

Flash forward to 1972 and the new Clean Water Act requires the city perform secondary treatment, which is a biological process to remove dissolved organic matter before the wastewater leaves the plant. Six years later in 1978, the Clean Water Act was amended to include something known as the 301h waiver from secondary treatment. Rice said the waiver was created because scientists realized that different bodies of water have something known as "assimilative capacity," meaning they have different abilities to cleanse themselves.

"People say dilution is the solution to pollution, but really it's the assimilative capacity of the natural organisms and the plants," Rice said.

Instead of immediately applying for the 301h waiver, Rice said the city decided to continue on the path toward creating a secondary treatment plant. Until, that is, the state stepped in.

"We had it fully funded," Rice said. "But the state said, 'Hey, we can save money if you apply for a 301h waiver, Portsmouth is a perfect candidate for it, would you do this?'"

What happened next, according to Rice, was that the money the state promised the city to build the plant was reprogrammed for upgrades to the Franklin Wastewater Treatment Plant, a state-owned facility tasked with treating water flowing out of the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Looking back, Rice said the city should have continued with its efforts. "Unfortunately we should've said, 'thanks, but no thanks,'" he said. "We would've been much better off. We would've had our treatment plant upgraded and we would've been doing minor upgrades."

Deputy Public Works Director David Allen said the plans to upgrade the treatment plant still sit in this office to day. Allen said it's difficult to gauge the difference in what it would have cost to build the new plant then and what it would cost now.

Rice said the upgraded plant would have likely cost about $25 million. He said 95 cents of every dollar was pretty much paid for.

But the story of the secondary treatment plant that never was isn't the only story in the city's long history of wastewater woes. Once the city got its 301h waiver in 1985, Rice said it decided it would continue to build a better primary treatment plant. During that process, the city was told by the EPA that it would need to install a sand filter that was expected to help further treat of the wastewater.

"When the plant went online in 1991, it was called an advanced primary plant," Rice said. "Within a year it became obvious that it wasn't going to work."

Rice said the city tried to run the plant for a handful of years, but it became increasingly obvious that the treatment method was flawed and was doing more harm than good.

"They never pilot-tested it," he said. "It was a recipe for disaster."

The city had received 95 percent funding to build the filter building, but Rice said that funding ultimately went to waste after the city decided to stop the operation and close the building. "There was a lot of money sunk into that building," he said. "It was someone's little idea and it actually made things worse."

Today, the building sits vacant and is no longer operating. The city, however, is still paying back the bond to fund its construction. Allen said the city will likely finish the bond payments in 2012.

Flash forward to 1996, when the city decided to pilot a new technology involving chemically enhanced primary treatment, Rice said. Around that same time the EPA required the city to develop a long-term control plan despite the fact one was created in 1990, he said.

"They never commented on it," he said.

Allen said somewhere in the midst of the city working to develop the plan, a series of major storms struck Portsmouth and made officials realize more work was needed. Many homes in the city saw their basements flood, and the city's system overflowed, causing flooded roads.

"This was actually the beginning of the City Council understanding that you have to invest in your infrastructure," Allen said.

In 1997, the city completed what is known as the 201 Facilities Plan Update, during which Rice said the city asked the EPA if it was in danger of losing its 301h waiver for secondary treatment. Rice said EPA officials indicated the city was fine and suggested it continued on its course of treatment.

Flash forward again to 2005, and the EPA issued the city a draft permit of the 301h waiver, Rice said.

Things got interesting, Rice said, when the Conservation Law Foundation challenged the permit. Rice said the issue was that the EPA should not have given the city a 301h waiver in the first place.

"The EPA didn't know their own law," he said. "They should've never granted the waiver in the first place because the river was in non-attainment for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxin and mercury."

The pollutants were considered to be historic in nature, however, and not caused by the treatment plant, he said.

"The CLF rightfully knew the law and told the EPA," he said. "We lost the 301h waiver for legal reasons, not because of water quality reasons."

The city was then issued a secondary permit by the EPA. The CLF again contested because that permit did not include treatment for nutrients and had no schedule for upgrades. Rice said that set off a years-long process in the Environmental Appeals Board that eventually resulted in the consent decree the city is operating under currently.

That decree mandates the city develop a master plan, which according to Rice is complete. It also ordered the city to develop an implementation schedule. Rice said the original schedule submitted involved moving operations to Pease International Tradeport and treating for nutrients. However the EPA said that was not good enough, he said.

"The EPA said that was unacceptable and asked what we could do if we went to secondary treatment at Peirce Island only."

A plan to convert the plant to secondary treatment was submitted to the EPA in November 2010. Rice said the city has yet to hear back from the EPA on the new plan.

"The city is investing money and trying to get buy in, but we never get the buy in," he said. "Although they're expecting us to follow through with the plan. We're asking them for feedback and they're not giving it to us."

Allen said the city has continued to update regulators about the ongoing treatment efforts. He said the city plans on doing even more to keep the residents updated as well.

"We understand the important of keeping (the EPA) informed and keeping people informed," he said. "We're essentially rebuilding the underground infrastructure of a 300-year-old city. It's going to be expensive."



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Bob Furber, ARESST Treasurer,
2751 Arbutus Road
Victoria, BC, V8N 5X7

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