February 25, 2012

ARESST News Blog

- FLUSHED AND FORGOTTEN (major sewage story in student news)


FLUSHED AND FORGOTTEN (major sewage story in student news): 


Ali Hackett
Nexus (in Camosun student newspaper, cover and 2-page centre position with several photos)
February 22, 2012 
Click here to leave a comment on story website (no letters section in paper)

The apparent simplicity of flushing a toilet has become a highly complex scenario in the Capital Regional District (CRD).

The CRD has spent millions of dollars, and several years, deciding how to deal with its sewage. Since ordered by the provincial government to start treating sewage in 2006, the CRD and others have undertaken numerous studies by engineers and scientists, and numerous opinions have been formed by politicians and the public.

The CRD is made up of 13 municipalities, seven of which hook up to the main sewage pipes. Today, these municipalities (Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, Langford, Colwood, Esquimalt, and View Royal) pump over 130 million litres of sewage effluent into the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day, from Macaulay Point in Esquimalt and Clover Point in Victoria.

Although that seems like a lot, researchers for the CRD says the tidal system and currents in the strait can handle it. The potential harm levels are consistently below their “trigger,” which is when the level of toxins in the effluent starts damaging marine life.

Some environmental groups disagree, and say that the trigger is set so high it’s nearly impossible to reach. In fact, it was the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now called EcoJustice) who originally brought the CRD’s method of sewage disposal to the attention of the provincial government.

Not in my backyard

Lynda Hundleby, a councillor for the city of Esquimalt, is disappointed with the February 8 decision by the CRD’s liquid waste management committee to put a new secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, which is near the existing plant at Macaulay Point, but wants to make it clear she’s not necessarily speaking on behalf of the city.

The site, which is at the northwest entrance to the Inner Harbour in Esquimalt, is currently owned by Imperial Oil, and generated $51,300 in property taxes for the municipality last year. When the CRD takes over, they will be exempt from municipal taxes.

“It’s difficult for us because we have a very limited tax base,” says Hundleby. “We will not be getting any revenue from that land, and we’ll have to make it up somehow. I’m really unhappy about the fact that we’re not being compensated in any way.”

Hundleby also feels that putting a sewage treatment plant in such a pristine location doesn’t make sense. The plant will likely be visible from the cruise ship dock at Ogden Point, and to anyone coming and going from the harbour.

“Esquimalt is on the record saying we don’t think this is a good use of prime waterfront land,” says Hundleby. “Having said that, maybe there are ways to make it look better, but sounds to me like cost is the overriding factor. They’re not really concerned with what it looks like.”

One reason for choosing McLoughlin Point is the existing infrastructure at Macaulay Point, which is just around the corner.

“The pipes are in the ground going to Macaulay already, which was one of the main reasons we were told this site was chosen,” says Hundleby. “On the one hand, I can understand that, but it’s still a bit unfair for us.”

Hundleby says that Esquimalt was never properly consulted about the McLoughlin Point site. Denise Blackwell, a Langford councillor, CRD director, and chair of the core liquid waste management committee, says they attempted public consultations several times with Esquimalt, but there were scheduling conflicts.

Hundleby feels the lack of consultation might be due to the fact that, hypothetically, the CRD could put the treatment plant anywhere they want within the district, because municipalities don’t have veto power. And, because representation for municipalities is done proportionally by population, Victoria and Saanich have nine votes out of 23 total. Esquimalt, on the other hand, has only one.

“It doesn’t really matter what the rest of us think,” says Hundleby. “The bigger municipalities have control because they can out-vote us.”

Environmental politics

At the Macaulay and Clover Point sites, sewage goes through preliminary screening. It’s sieved through a metal screen with six-millimetre holes, and the effluent is heavily diluted before flowing out over a kilometre offshore.

It’s then released through diffusers, 60 metres below the surface, where it’s dispersed and transported by strong tidal currents.

Also released into the strait is storm water, which is, essentially, anything that passes through the drainage system. The problem with just having preliminary screening in place is substances like fats, engine grease, and detergents make their way into the ocean, and can have adverse effects on marine life.

John Bergbusch has an extensive background in municipal politics. He’s also the chair of ARESST, a group of residents who believe the current system works, and the McLoughlin Point treatment plant is a mistake.

“It’s the wrong proposal,” says Bergbusch. “There’s things [the CRD] could do to fix the environment, like improve the storm drains, and enhance the source control program, but the project that they are working on is the wrong program at a cost of $800 million.”

Bergbusch says the CRD hasn’t done adequate research. However, Jack Hull, the CRD Integrated Water Services general manager, says they looked at multiple options, including a scenario with several smaller treatment plants throughout the region.

“I can’t think of anything we didn’t look at,” says Hull. “What was common with all of the options we looked at was McLoughlin.”

CRD director Blackwell seconds Hull.

“We’ve spent $10 million on studies in the last few years,” she says. “I’d say that’s plenty of research.”

According to members of ARESST, more should have been done to promote the unique environment in the Juan de Fuca Strait to the provincial government. The CRD has been conducting its own research in the strait to monitor the marine environment for years. Bergbusch doesn’t understand why they didn’t make a stronger case for the current method when they had the chance.

“The CRD’s own research always shows the marine environment around the diffusers to be doing very well,” says Bergbusch. “What is the reason for going ahead with [the treatment plant], other than, perhaps, a public relations effort? One of the reasons we object is they haven’t given us a good reason to move ahead.”

However, the reason given by Hull is simple: the province issued an order, and it wasn’t up for discussion. Beyond that, he says, the federal government is moving ahead with legislation regarding sewage treatment.

“They’re supposed to be announcing it in March,” says Hull, “with a requirement for secondary treatment by 2020.”

Regardless of this, says Bergbusch, the grounds for a treatment plant are weak.

“It’s not in the environmental interest, it’s certainly not a green project, and it’s a waste of money,” he says.

Antiquated technology?

Dave Saunders, the exiting mayor of Colwood, is an outspoken critic of the CRD’s sewage treatment agenda. He, too, feels that there wasn’t adequate research done by the CRD, and that they’re not thinking outside the box when it comes to technology.

“In this day and age, when we’re presented with so much new technology, I feel that the CRD should have done a better job of exploring all the other opportunities out there,” says Saunders.
Hull says the design for the secondary treatment plant hasn’t been decided on, and they will be accepting proposals from the private sector, although they won’t be taking any risks. As it stands, sewage will be pumped to McLoughlin Point for primary screening, and the sludge will be piped to Hartland Landfill in Saanich for secondary treatment.

“We’re not going to put in any experimental technology when there’s no guarantee at the end of the day that it will work,” says Hull. “It’s got to be proven technology that, when completed, will function as designed.”

The CRD will be looking for things like cost-effectiveness and energy use in the new design, but Saunders maintains they are relying on outdated mechanical engineering methods to make their decisions. He says even the idea of primary and secondary treatment needs to be revisited.

“When I was mayor, I had some people saying they could do the sewage treatment model for no cost to the citizens in the area, because they treat the sewage as a resource,” says Saunders. “For that to work there should be no separation of solid and liquid waste, but that’s what the plan is right now.”

Besides the technological aspect of the McLoughlin Point plant, Saunders is concerned with its location for ecological reasons.

According to the Natural Resources Canada website, McLoughlin Point is in the “intermediate risk zone” in the case of a tsunami. For Saunders, this is reason enough to discount McLoughlin Point as an option for sewage treatment.

“It makes no sense to put that kind of infrastructure in a single spot that is at such a high risk,” he says. “There is no emergency backup with this plan.”

The cost of rapid growth

The most recent census data shows that Langford is the fastest growing city in the province. In the last five years its population has increased by 30 percent, to just under 30,000, and is projected to double in the next decade.

While Langford enjoys the benefits of development, the population has grown faster than some of our shared infrastructure, like highways and sewers. This has lead to a lot of frustration for commuters and taxpayers, who now must suffer the burden of unforeseen growth.

According to the CRD, the cost estimate for the new wastewater management facilities is $780 million, although infrastructure projects are known to run over budget.

The provincial and federal government have said they will each pay for a third of the cost, with the seven core municipalities paying for the rest, but the CRD is still waiting for the funding to be guaranteed in writing. Official numbers aren’t available, but it will certainly mean increased taxes for homeowners in the seven core municipalities.

The rapid growth also affects the future of sewage treatment. At the current rate of growth, the McLoughlin Point plant will only be able to serve the regional population until about 2035. Hull estimates the plant will be up and running by 2018, which means our infrastructure investment will potentially be obsolete in 20 or so years.

Opponents of the McLoughlin Point sewage treatment plant say for the near billion-dollar price tag this just isn’t good enough, given the issue of inadequate infrastructure that we’re dealing with now.

“Why these generally clever people insist on forging ahead with this project is a mystery to me,” says Bergbusch.

Blackwell maintains they don’t have a choice in the matter.

“We were ordered to do treatment by the provincial government,” she says. “Even if we hadn’t been ordered to do it by the province, the new federal regulations mean we would have to do it anyway.”


Fear funding cuts for investigations may affect human, animal health
FEBRUARY 20, 2012 
A slew of pathogens typically found in livestock and domestic animals is increasingly being found in marine mammals, including in the Strait of Georgia off Vancouver.

"We're finding similar pathology or abnormalities in marine mammals to what we're seeing in our livestock cases," said Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with B.C.'s animal health centre in Abbotsford.

Some of these pathogens are thought to make their way from land into the Strait of Georgia through rainwater and streams - especially the Fraser River, which flows through farmland. But there are also concerns that infected marine mammals could pose their own risks to humans.

Harbour seals in urban areas such as Vancouver and Victoria have been found to carry strains of Escherichia coli and Enterococcus, bacteria found in the intestinal tract, that are resistant to eight different antibiotics used in livestock.

"This is something of concern," Raverty said in an interview. "These harbour seals are in similar areas to where humans would be. If clinical disease were to develop, it may be more difficult to treat with conventional antibiotics."

The disturbing discovery comes as federal funding for such investigations is drying up. "Funding in the U.S. and Canada has been cut for all marine mammal surveillance work," Raverty said.

That could mean a dramatic decline in the recovery of stranded marine mammals and post-mortem examinations, which are funded by Ottawa. Endangered killer whiles could be an exception.

"I don't mean to criticize the federal government," said Raverty, attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Vancouver Convention Centre through today.

"I understand budgets have to be balanced, but it's [important] to make people aware of what's happening and the potential impact on our ability to pursue these investigations."

Clostridium difficile has been found in senior centres and in young infants, and in young foals and piglets, and is considered widespread in the environment. The bacteria can produce lethal toxins in the intestine.

Harbour seals are known to have it, possibly exposed when they haul out at rookery sites. "Some thrive with no untoward effect; others may develop clinical disease and succumb to the infection."

Coxiella burnetti has historically been associated with dairy cattle and goats, which may abort or produce weak offspring. It has been found in harbour seals, harbour porpoises, northern fur seals, and sea lions, but is not thought to have come from a terrestrial environment.

Cryptococcus gattii, a fungus that first emerged in Canada on Vancouver Island in the late 1990s and has proven fatal to humans, has also been found in stranded harbour porpoises; there are concerns over its potential transfer to populations of killer whales, especially mammal-eating transients.

Raverty said the fungus is thought to have arrived on air currents from tropical and sub-tropical regions, eventually being deposited with rain on the coastal mountains and flushed into the ocean.

Marine mammals exchange large amounts of air during breathing and could be more prone to infection.

In California, sea otters have become infected with a strain of Toxoplasma gondii, a potentially lethal parasitic protozoan thought to have entered marine waters through the droppings of domestic and wild cats.

Harbour seals and sea lions in our region have shown similar infections, Raverty said.

Sarcocystis neuroma, a parasite associated with opossums, has dispersed to the marine environment and "has contributed to very significant morbidity in marine mammals" such as harbour seals.

The combination of Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona is especially deadly.

Neospora caninum, another protozoa, responsible for abortions in dairy cattle, is also thought to have transferred to the marine environment, and is found in sea lions, sea otters and harbour seals.



Victoria News and Goldstream Gazette
February 23, 2012 

Besides the $500 million deficit, what about the share that Victoria will have to pay for the unnecessary sewage plant capital cost — maybe another $100 million?

Then there is the LRT share — another $100 million?

The Johnson Street Bridge — another $40 million? These big-ticket items are starting to add up.

John Newcomb




Monday February 27 – 8:30 am to 5:00 pm 
University of Victoria, Senate Boardroom 

On Monday February 27, 2012, the University of Victoria will host a major collaborative event jointly with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of the 
Government of Canada. The Coastal Communities Symposium will explore the environmental and socio-economic challenges and opportunities that coastal communities face in the 21st century, and the role of government and academia in addressing these issues. 

This Symposium will feature Keynote Speaker, Dr. Evelyn Pinkerton, the distinguished maritime anthropologist from Simon Fraser University, as well as an address by Mr. David Bevan, Associate Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 

Chaired by Dr. Evert Lindquist, Director of the School of Public Administration, the program will include three panel discussions with eminent researchers from the University and DFO, addressing the issues of economic development, climate change, and ocean science, focused on coastal communities in British Columbia. 

Each panel will offer a wide range of perspectives and interests, and will showcase both government and academic research initiatives that address 
the management and stewardship of coastal communities. The program is designed to focus on both student and practitioner interests, and will include question and answer sessions with the keynote speaker and the panelists. 

Location and Date and Registration 

The symposium will take place on Monday February 27, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, in the Senate Boardroom, University Centre University of Victoria. 

The audience for the symposium will include University of Victoria faculty, students and alumni, as well as representatives from government, business and civil society

Registration to attend all or part of the Coastal Communities Symposium, Monday February 27, 2012, can be via email to Jennifer Guest jsguest@uvic.ca, or telephone at 250-472-4585.

Registration will be accepted until Thursday February 23, 2012. Do register early as space in the Senate Boardroom is limited. There is no fee to attend the Symposium.


8:30 – 9:45 am Opening Program 
Welcome: Symposium Chair, Dr. Evert Lindquist, Director, School of Public Administration 
Greetings and Remarks: Dr. Howard Brunt, Vice President Research, University of Victoria 
Address: Mr. David Bevan, Associate Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada 
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Evelyn Pinkerton, Maritime Anthropologist, Simon Fraser University 

9:45 - 10:00 am Refreshment Break 

10:00 – 11:30 am Panel # 1 - Coastal Communities and Climate Change 
Mr. Robin Brown, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Dr. Tom Pedersen, Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria 
Dr. Trevor Lantz, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria 

11:45 – 1:15 Luncheon (by invitation) 

1:30 - 2:45 pm Panel # 2 - Coastal Communities and Economic Development 
Ms. Angela Bate, Fisheries and Oceans Canada 
Dr. Lynne Siemens, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria 
Dr. Judith Sayers, Faculty of Law and School of Business, University of Victoria 

2:45 – 3:00 pm Refreshment Break 

3:00 – 4:15 pm Panel # 3 - Coastal Communities and Ocean Science 
Dr. Robie Macdonald, Fisheries and Oceans Canada