June 4, 2012

ARESST News Blog




ARESST: Currently, the BC regulatory demand for sewage treatment includes Total Suspended Solids and Biological Oxygen Demand which finescreen filters could meet. However, if the issue is new federal standards, what about impacts of Bill 38, or possible new estradiol standards (see contraceptive pill article below)?  While finescreen filters do produce sewage sludge, it would be less than that produced by secondary stage sewage treatment. Just claiming greenhouse gas (GHG) credits still means that a land-based sewage plant produces thousands of tons of GHGs, and still need to know if costs of GHG abatement through the energy centre would be substantially reduced by those credits. 

Denise Blackwell
Times Colonist
June 03, 2012
Letters to editor: letters@timescolonist.com

While we continue to respect Dr. Shaun Peck's views on the issue of sewage treatment for our region, some of the facts in his article of May 27 are not correct.

First, siting the treatment plant at Macaulay Point rather than McLoughlin still requires a new deep-sea outfall. The existing outfall does not have the capacity for the sewage flows that are currently discharged from Macaulay plus the discharges currently discharged at Clover Point.

The Capital Regional District undertook an extensive study of potential sites for both the sewage-treatment facility and the sludge processing. There is no suitable land available in the upper harbour area for a biosolids facility.

The digested sludge (biosolids) will be dried, using some of the biogas produced by the digestion process producing 11 to 15 tonnes per day at design capacity. Use of the remaining biogas and dried biosolids as a fuel source to displace fossil fuels will allow the user to claim greenhouse-gas credits and make the wastewater treatment project better than carbon-neutral.

Peck suggests using finer screens to enable the CRD to meet proposed federal standards for total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand, and suggests using Salsnes filters. This filter and others were tested by the CRD in 2004. 

In general, the finescreen filters were only capable of producing an effluent quality less than or similar to primary treatment standards. The federal regulations and the provincial order require secondary treatment. It should be noted that fine screens would also generate significant quantities of sludge that would need to be landfilled if treatment of this material was not provided as Peck suggests.

The CRD's approved liquid-waste management plan contains a two-fold approach to address inflow and infiltration: attenuation tanks in Saanich East and improvements to downstream conveyance, and a commitment by municipalities to reduce inflow and infiltration in sanitary sewers by 2030.

The proposed attenuation tanks will provide an immediate benefit in reducing sewage overflows onto local beaches. Also, municipalities are taking action to reduce inflow and infiltration to sanitary sewers by reducing leaks in pipes and eliminating cross connections where storm systems are connected directly to the sewer system.

The discharge of contaminated stormwater runoff to sensitive ecosystems is a problem that many municipalities are facing. The design of stormwater management is evolving to reduce direct discharges to storm sewers through the use of techniques that filter, store, evaporate and retain rainwater close to source.

However, short of treating all stormwater to remove contaminants, there will continue to be discharges to the aquatic environment that may pose a risk to public health.

The CRD has recently produced a report on heat recovery from trunk sewers and large water mains. The report concluded that heat recovery in "new build" situations is economically viable, but would require grants in retrofit installations. The CRD is pursuing a number of opportunities identified in the report. Resource recovery is an integral part of the core area project, including recovery of biogas, phosphorous and heat energy.

The procurement process for both the wastewater treatment plant and the biosolids facility will provide opportunities for private sector innovation to optimize the treatment processes and maximize energy recovery.

Peck is correct that the CRD is awaiting final confirmation of funding from both senior levels of government for this project.

- Denise Blackwell is a Langford city councillor and chairwoman of the Capital Regional District's core area liquid-waste committee.


Bill Cleverley
Times Colonist
May 31, 2012

Many Canadian cities will spiral into a morass of traffic gridlock, sky-high housing costs and crumbling roads and bridges unless senior governments can address their growing financial uncertainty, a new report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities predicts.

Recent senior government investments, including the permanent federal Gas Tax Fund, the Economic Action Plan and the Building Canada Plan, have helped municipalities trying to rebuild infrastructure, according to the report: The State of Canadian Cities and Communities 2012. But one-third of core federal-municipal funding, totalling about $2 billion annually, is set to expire within the next two years.

Without a stable and secure share of tax revenues, municipalities remain vulnerable to offloading of costly responsibilities in areas such as social housing, health and policing, the report says.

"It challenges the notion that we can exist on eight cents of every tax dollar and we've been saying that for a number of years," said Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman, who hopes to be elected FCM third vice-president in Saskatoon this weekend.

Canadian cities receive about eight cents of every tax dollar while their American counterparts average about 13 cents, Coleman said. The challenge the FCM faces is to get senior governments to agree that municipalities need more.

Coleman said if the funding system doesn't change, municipalities "will begin to fail."

"You're going to see, and it will probably start with the smaller municipalities first, but you will see increasing failure of - as we saw in Montreal - bridges and tunnels. You're going to see more of that happen as the infrastructure deficit grows," he said.

According to FCM president Berry Vrbanovic, local governments are on the brink.

Of every new dollar in taxes Canadians have paid during the past 50 years, 95 cents have gone to federal and provincial treasuries, with just five cents paid to municipalities. The three budget items that have increased fastest for municipalities since 1988 are affordable housing, health, and social services - all areas in which other governments have offloaded major new costs on to the municipal property tax-base, the report says.

Policing and public safety are the fastest-growing areas in municipal budgets, making up more than 20 per cent of local spending.

But Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said not every municipality is in bad shape, and municipal politicians should not lose sight of gains made over past years which include a permanent allocation of gas tax funds and a return to municipalities of the federal share of the HST.

Also, what constitutes "old" infrastructure varies, he said. "There's infrastructure in Montreal that might be 300 years old and there's infrastructure in Saanich that we consider to be old that's 60 years old," Leonard said.

Since 2001, provincial funding to municipal governments has been increased incrementally by about $3 billion - half for operations and half for infrastructure, said Ida Chong, provincial minister of community, sport and culture.

"There's only one taxpayer. So regardless of which level of government wants to impose additional taxes, which is never popular, the taxpayers, I think feel they are pretty much at the limit," Chong said.

The FCM's annual conference runs from Friday to Monday.



Peter O'Neil
Postmedia News 
May 31, 2012 4:55 PM

OTTAWA — The four former federal fisheries ministers from B.C. who wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemning changes to the Fisheries Act don't appear to have read the legislation, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Thursday.

The four ministers included former Progressive Conservative minister Tom Siddon, who delivered a scathing clause-by-clause critique of the legislation before a parliamentary committee here the previous evening.

Siddon, who signed the letter with former Tory colleague John Fraser and Liberals David Anderson and Herb Dhaliwal, condemned the Harper government Wednesday for creating a "Swiss-cheese" fish legislation that is so full of loopholes it will benefit lawyers far more than fish or fish habitat.

He also said the sweeping fisheries changes shouldn't be part of a 425-page omnibus budget implementation bill, which includes measures affecting matters such as Old Age Security and immigration. The bill is being rushed through the House of Commons before the summer break begins in late June.

"It makes a travesty of the democratic process," said Siddon, who served as fisheries minister from 1985-90 and introduced major policy changes dealing with fisheries habitat protection. "To bundle all of this into a budget bill, with all of its other facets, is not becoming of a Conservative government, period."

Both Kent and B.C. MP Randy Kamp, however, tried to discredit their critics.

Kent told reporters the four ministers "seem to be" responding to criticism of the changes leveled by environmental groups, rather than to the actual text of the legislation.

"We'll listen to those concerns, we'll respond to those concerns, but I think some of the reaction has come before full consumption of what the act says and what the act will actually do."

Asked if he was suggesting the four hadn't read bill C-38's habitat provisions, Kent replied: "I'm saying by their remarks they seem not to be familiar with the specifics of the act, yes, and the way the act will be applied."

The letter alleged that the changes will "inevitably reduce and weaken" protection of fish habitat, and questioned whether federal bureaucrats even authored the changes.


"Quite frankly, Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the minister of fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, exactly who are they?"

Siddon not only cited specific clauses of the legislation during his appearance Wednesday but also had nicknames for each one, such as the "minister cops out clause" for provisions allowing Ottawa to delegate authority to other governments or even private interests.

He said in an interview that he read all the provisions affecting fisheries "two or three times."

Kamp, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield's parliamentary secretary, argued the federal legislation is consistent with Siddon's policy on enforcement of habitat provisions enacted in 1986. But Siddon said the proposed law is vastly different from the current regime. He pointed out that the current law prohibits unauthorized "harmful" alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

The new legislation bans only the killing of fish or the permanent alteration or destruction of habitat related to, or supportive of, the commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.

"There's a significant distinction between 'serious harm' versus 'harmful alteration.' You've got to kill fish before you've done serious harm."




Ashley Ahearn
Earthfix (Oregon)
May 24, 2012

SEATTLE — Remember those little pieces of paper you used to measure pH back in junior high school? You’d stick them into your can of Coke or on your tongue and the color would tell you how acidic that liquid was?

Well if you stuck litmus paper into the world’s oceans it would come out closer and closer to the acidic side of the pH scale.

The acidity of the ocean has increased by 30 percent over the last 250 years, says scientist Richard Feeley. He’s with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and serves on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Ocean Acidification panel.

Feeley says our carbon dioxide emissions are making the world’s oceans more acidic. But if you did the litmus test on Puget Sound you’d see the effects here are even more severe.

“In Puget Sound we see that same impact as we see in the open ocean but we also have other combined impacts that are part of the natural local processes here in our region,” he says.

The local processes Feeley’s talking about start out in the ocean with tiny organisms that live near the surface and absorb carbon dioxide from the air. When they die they sink to the bottom and release that CO2 into the depths.

But that acidic water doesn’t stay down there. Natural ocean currents push it up and towards the shore in a process called coastal upwelling. Those deep more-acidic ocean waters eventually flow into Puget Sound.

Once they get here they tend to stick around longer than they would on the outer coast. And that makes Puget Sound significantly more acidic than the open ocean.

This week Gregoire’s Ocean Acidification Panel met to discuss the problem and what’s to be done about it. First order of business: figure out where exactly the CO2 is coming from.

Scientists are starting to look closer to home. And they’re connecting the dots they see in and around Puget Sound.

Algae blooms — which a scientist has been documenting for the Washington Department of Ecology (see related story) — love all the nutrients that humans around Puget Sound are adding to the water.

The algae thrive on the nitrates and phosphorous from our wastewater treatment plants, leaky septic tanks and runoff from fertilized lawns and agricultural lands.

Christopher Krembs is an oceanographer with the Washington Department of Ecology. He says over the past decade there’s been a steady and significant increase in nutrient levels in Puget Sound.

And that, he explains, is making the water even more acidic:

“If you have more nutrients you will have more blooms, longer lasting blooms, larger lasting blooms and that promotes a cycle where you have more algae sinking to the bottom, consuming more oxygen producing more CO2 and that has an effect on ocean acidification.”

It’s like a never ending cycle. More nutrients means more algae. More dead algae means more CO2 released into the water. More CO2 means more acidic water.

Scientists on the governor’s panel believe algal blooms could be a major contributor to the increasingly acidic waters of Puget Sound, but it’s too soon to say how big.

Its kind of like Puget Sound is suffering from a case of heartburn.

“It would be nice if there were a Rolaid. There might be highly localized Rolaids that we can apply. There will be no broad one,” says Brad Warren. He’s with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Warren also is part of Gregoire’s panel on Ocean Acidification and is leading the efforts to figure out how to respond to the problem. Warren suggests first of all: cracking down on the amount of nutrients and pollution we allow into our waterways.

But Puget Sound already has heartburn — so how do we make the water less acidic?

Some people have proposed harvesting those algal blooms to make biofuel out of them before they have a chance to decompose and turn the water more acidic.

Others have suggested planting seaweeds or other grasses to suck CO2 out of the water – just like we plant trees on land to suck CO2 out of the air.

Brad Warren: “Any of these activities that we engage in that are going to change how carbon moves through the ocean are going to matter and we need to understand how so we can figure out how to use them and manage these activities and in fact, in some cases, probably encourage them.”

There’s more research to be done about acidification in Puget Sound but the Ocean Acidification Panel acknowledges that action needs to be taken.

It will release a report outlining recommendations at the end of the summer.



Drug firms oppose an EU call for controls on potent chemicals that have been blamed for the gender mutation of freshwater fish

Robin McKie
science editor
2 June 2012 

Britain faces a £30bn bill to clean up rivers, streams and drinking water supplies contaminated by synthetic hormones from contraceptive pills. Drastic reductions in these chemicals, which have been linked to collapses in fish populations, are proposed in the latest European Union water framework directive.

But the plan, which would involve upgrading the sewage network and significantly increasing household water bills, is controversial. Water and pharmaceutical companies dispute the science involved and argue the costs are prohibitive. By contrast, many environmental researchers say the proposal is sound. Ethinyl estradiol (EE2), the main active ingredient of contraceptive pills, can trigger a condition known as intersex in freshwater fish, which has caused significant drops in populations in many species – although no links have yet been made with human health. "That does not mean we will not find impacts in future," said toxicologist Professor Richard Owen of Exeter University. "But do we want to wait until we see effects in humans, as we did with thalidomide and BSE, or do we act before harm is done?"

Preventing EE2 from having environmental or health effects is difficult, however. "Ethinyl estradiol is a very potent chemical," said Professor Susan Jobling of Brunel University. "It is designed to have effects in the human body at very low levels. That means it will also have a significant impact in the environment."

More than 2.5 million women take birth control pills in the UK. Their EE2 content is excreted and washed into sewage systems and rivers. Even at very low concentrations, this chemical has harmful effects on fish. Males suffer reduced sperm production, with severe effects on populations. In one recent trial, in a Canadian lake, researchers added EE2 until levels in the water reached five parts per trillion (ppt), a minute concentration. Yet fish populations suffered severe problems with one species, the fathead minnow, collapsing completely.

In Britain, research by Jobling found that at 50 sites 80% had noticeable levels of EE2 in their water. The closer a downstream sampling point was to a sewage works, the higher the level of EE2 tended to be. Similar levels are found elsewhere in Europe.

To reduce dangers posed by these concentrations, the EU proposed in January that it would set a level of 0.035ppt for ethinyl estradiol in water in Europe. Achieving that target will not be easy, as Owen and Jobling point out in a recent issue of Nature. They calculate that, for a town of about 250,000 people, it would cost about £6m to install a system that uses granular activated carbon to cut EE2 levels, with a further £600,000 being needed to operate the system each year. To upgrade the 1,400 sewage waterworks in England and Wales would cost a total of more than £30bn, they add. "The question we have to ask ourselves is straightforward," said Owen, a former head of environment and health at the UK Environment Agency. "Are we willing to pay up or would we rather settle for environmental damage associated with flexible fertility?"

A final decision on introducing the EU's plans to cut EE2 levels will be taken in November by the European parliament. Water and pharmaceutical companies have already begun to lobby to block the plan and it is expected other parties will become involved. "There is a danger that the battle will take place behind closed doors," said Jobling. "The public need to be told what the issues are and make its voice heard. It may be happy to pay the extra cost and so avoid the risk of ill-health in the future."

Nor is it necessary that the public should pick up the tab, added Owen. "The pharmaceutical industry makes billions out of the drugs and treatments it sells. If these pollute the environment, what is wrong with making them pay to have it cleaned up?"

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry rejected the idea and disputed the scientific basis of the EU plans. "Feminisation in fish populations has been observed in a number of field surveys, but a detrimental impact on the level of those populations has not been established," said a spokesman. "It would be premature to require such intensive upgrading of waste water treatment."

An official at Water UK, the trade body for the water industry, also attacked the plan and criticised the European commission for focusing on "end of pipe treatments" rather than tackling the issue of what enters the waste water stream.