March 29, 2015

Congressman to Canadians: Get off the pot on Victoria sewage

Jack Knox: We’re not stalling on sewage … just incompetent
Monique Keiran: Sewage sludge a golden opportunity?
CRD politicians barely muster quorum to pass budget (sewage excerpt)

Congressman to Canadians: Get off the pot on Victoria sewage

Joel Connelly
Seattle Times
25 March 2015

A venerable group of visitors from Ottawa, members of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, found themselves talking about human waste on Wednesday when they met up with an angry guy from Port Angeles.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., who represents the Olympic Peninsula, unburdened himself on yet the latest delay by Victoria in dealing with the untreated sewage it dumps daily into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“I grew up in Port Angeles, right across the water from Victoria,” Kilmer told the parliamentarians.  “So it concerns me when, after many years, Canada continues to send raw sewage right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“I’ll continue to call on our Canadian partners to work on a solution so we can ensure this does not impact our shared waters any longer.”

Victoria, and neighboring Vancouver Island cities, dump 34 million gallons of untreated sewage each day into the international waterway.

Kilmer, 41, was a baby when cities on the U.S. side of the strait built secondary sewage treatment plants — under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but with EPA helping pay the tab.

The issue has kicked around for a quarter-century.  It has even produced a colorful protest.  A Victoria graduate student named James Skwarok dressed up as a 6-foot-tall turd, speaking in falsetto voice and wearing a sailor hat.

“Mr. Floatie” showed up at a B.C. Legislature all-candidates meeting, tried to run for mayor of Victoria and led a protest in Victoria’s Inner Harbor.

For a time — a time in which British Columbia was campaigning to host the 2010 Winter  Olympics — officialdom seemed to get off the pot.

A decade ago, then-B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell described the dumping as “an embarrassment to British Columbia.”  The Canadian government, the province and the Capital Regional District agreed to divvy up the cost.

But Vancouver Island cities haven’t even established a site for the treatment plant.  Esquimalt refused to accept a plant site last year.

According to a recent (Victoria) Times-Colonist story, a treatment plant won’t be in place until 2023.

“Past commitments have not been implemented. Delaying this work to 2020 is unacceptable,” Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine wrote in a letter last year to B.C. Premier Christie Clark.

They called on Clark to “get involved to assure this project moves forward.”

The premier has not lifted a finger. Clark blew off the governor. Inslee received a vague, squishy, cliche-laden response from B.C. Environment Minister Mark Polak.

Victoria spent years defending its sewage discharges, depicting the Strait of Juan de Fuca as a giant toilet with currents that flushed away the sewage.

It has resisted pressure, ranging from threatened tourism boycotts to a shunning of the annual Swiftsure yacht race over the Memorial Day weekend.
Jack Knox: We’re not stalling on sewage … just incompetent

MARCH 27, 2015

After the first quarter-century or so, it becomes progressively harder to deny U.S. accusations of foot-dragging over sewage.   Photograph By Bruce Stotesbury, Victoria Times Colonist

Stumbled across a YouTube video from Poland today: 12 burly men in a dragon boat, half of them facing one way, half the other, madly paddling in opposite directions in a wacky kind of swimming pool tug-of-war.

It looked just like a CRD sewage committee meeting.


The Americans are mad at us again — or rather, still — over Victoria’s lack of sewage treatment.

When a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians visited Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer gave them a scolding.

Never mind that the typical MP for Violated Livestock, Sask., or Toronto-Crackpipe couldn’t find Victoria on a map. Kilmer was mad and wanted to be heard.

“It’s time for Canada to solve this sewage problem,” the Olympic Peninsula congressman said. “I grew up in Port Angeles, right across the water from Victoria. So it concerns me when after many years, Canada continues to send raw sewage right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“I’ll continue to call on our Canadian partners to work on a solution so we can ensure this does not impact our shared waters any longer.”

The — how best to describe it? — sedate pace of the capital region’s approach to the sewage problem has long been a sore spot with our southern neighbours, who accuse us of dragging our feet.

“Maybe it’s time for a Mr. Floatie comeback tour,” declared Port Angeles’s Peninsula Daily News on Thursday.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly weighed in, noting that B.C. politicians only got off their butts during the run-up to the Vancouver Olympics. After that, they lost interest, with Premier Christy Clark ignoring Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2014 plea to get things moving.

“The premier has not lifted a finger,” Connelly wrote this week. “Clark blew off the governor. Inslee received a vague, squishy, cliché-laden response from B.C. Environment Minister Mark Polak.” (Er, that’s Mary, not Mark, but let’s not quibble.)

So, yes, our neighbours are ticked off, which should concern us because A) they’re our friends and B) they have guns (the Daily News recently reported a surge in concealed-pistol licences across the strait, with one in 10 area residents now packing a permit).

Yet while it does, after the first quarter-century or so, become progressively harder to deny U.S. accusations of foot-dragging over sewage, we still manage to do so with a straight face.

For this is our self-righteous defence: We’re not dragging our feet. We’re just grossly incompetent.

Good lord, this is Dysfunction-by-the-Sea we’re talking about. Greater Victoria’s 91 mayors and councillors can’t co-ordinate anything: police, fire, regional transportation, bike routes, food-scrap disposal, whose turn it is to call out the grief counsellors when it snows.

Jeez, even what should have been a dead-simple amalgamation referendum turned into a 13-car pile-up in November, with eight municipalities unable to come up with a common ballot question and the other five refusing to ask anything at all. To repeat: Never mind sewage treatment, we couldn’t co-ordinate a three-float parade without driving off in four directions and killing two of the clowns.

Our politicians briefly flirted with getting on the same page, but then Esquimalt invoked distinct-society status and refused to have a treatment plant foisted upon it (“Hey, Barb, me and the guys decided to store this toxic waste in your garage.…”).

After the Esquimalt plan went sideways, we lurched off in a new direction. The CRD is now chasing “subregional” solutions in which a west-side group including Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood, Langford and the Songhees looks at one set of treatment options and an east-side group including Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay explores another, while Metchosin ponders whether to build two-holers or stick with one.

If it’s any comfort to the Americans, our Three Stooges routine could cost us hundreds of millions in federal and provincial grants. Having pushed the completion date to 2023 from 2020, we are testing the patience of those who write the cheques. Losing the funding wouldn’t absolve us of the government-ordered responsibility to build sewage treatment, though.

And besides, as long as our neighbours think we’re using their bathtub as our toilet, this ain’t over.
Monique Keiran: Sewage sludge a golden opportunity?

MARCH 29, 2015

The new sewage-treatment schedule that the Capital Regional District proposed this month contains tight deadlines.

In order for this latest development to pan out, proponents of building a secondary treatment plant in the region must determine a new timeline and acquire all approvals and a site for the treatment plant by this time next year.

At stake is an $83.4-million grant from Public-Private Partnership Canada for a facility to handle material removed from liquid sewage. Project opponents might see the extension as yet one more year to cause delay.

Of course, if the CRD or either group of municipalities that is exploring sewage-treatment options doesn’t meet the March 2016 conditions, the larger initiative will churn on. Two other federal grants, worth $170 million, and the province’s contributions have roomier deadlines that could accommodate the region’s revised forecast for completion by 2023.

Delay, in fact, might result in better sewage-treatment options. For example, researchers announced in January that they had identified and successfully extracted appreciable amounts of rare metals from biosolid samples collected from cities across the U.S. Their study focused on 13 high-value minerals, including gold, silver, copper, iridium and platinum. Extrapolating their results, the researchers estimate $16 million worth of metals could be accumulating every year in the sewage of a city with one million residents.

Of that, the researchers say almost $3.5 million could come from gold and silver.

If we could extract every single nanoparticle, the researchers reported, each tonne of sludge might include as much as $360 worth of the precious metals. That equals the value of gold found in the low-grade ore some companies mine.

Based on estimates of how much — ahem — raw materials the good residents of Greater Victoria produce each year, our sludge attains a theoretical value of almost $11 million on the commodities markets. It wouldn’t finance a sewage-treatment plant’s construction, but could offset its operations — not bad, considering current plans call for the sludge to be landfilled.

But before you rush to stake a claim on what you flush, be aware that the valuation depends on the quality of source materials, among other factors. Just how much gold is contained within the nuggets of Greater Victoria residents remains unknown.

The scientists who struck pay dirt in dirt speculate that the biosolid precious metals come from households, medical offices and industry. Dental offices, for example, work with gold and silver, and minute amounts of that might wash down the drains. Hospitals use some metals in tests and treatments. Our own dental fillings and jewelry could shed molecules daily.

Foil packaging for food contains tiny amounts of gold and silver, which could become mixed with the food, eaten, and … you know. The copper pipes in our homes slough molecules, as does the lead solder that seals them. Any industry that makes circuit boards or computer chips or handles the metals directly or indirectly could also be adding to the bonanza.

But our ability to extract this gold is limited by technology. Technology to recover most or even many nanoparticles of rare minerals from sludge at an operational scale doesn’t exist.

If industry and other funders of applied research are motivated to find solutions, efficient and economical solutions often result. But that takes time, trial and error.

For example, the technology to recover phosphorus from sewage sludge has existed for years, but it remains costly and ridden with operational challenges. Some municipalities, including North Vancouver, build work-arounds into their new treatment-plant plans to add phosphorous recovery later — when and if market conditions or operational considerations improve.

With time and continued high mineral prices to lure and secure investment, research might eventually result in extraction technology that is operationally workable and worthwhile.

Which means the sewage-treatment issue in this region comes down to time. It comes down to finite deadlines for grants and for meeting federally legislated requirements.

It also comes down to premature timing in terms of the technology we’d like to use — in the best of all possible worlds — and what is currently available.

It’s a new take on a different kind of gold rush.
CRD politicians barely muster quorum to pass budget (sewage excerpt)

Times Colonist
March 28

Jensen said that even though homeowners in some municipalities such as Esquimalt or View Royal are facing double-digit percentage increases (for Esquimalt residents, it’s 19 per cent and in View Royal, it’s 18.28 per cent), that’s primarily due to the phase-in of sewage-treatment funding.

Overall tax increases are “quite modest” and some homeowners, such as Metchosin residents, will even see a CRD tax decrease, Jensen said.

“Using Esquimalt as an example, Esquimalt’s increase for an average house is $68.51, but if you were to remove the wastewater-treatment portion, the increase is about $13. Which is in keeping with the increases in other communities. When you look at View Royal, which [will see a tax increase of] $49 on the average residence, $38.52 is how much they are paying for the wastewater treatment.”

CRD tax increases in municipalities such as Oak Bay (6.85 per cent), Victoria (7.50 per cent) or Saanich (5.89 per cent), which are all part of the core area sewer program, are not as high as Esquimalt’s because they are funding part of the sewage-treatment program through methods such as utility fees.

The proposed CRD capital budget for 2015 is $131 million, of which the wastewater-treatment plan accounts for $75 million. The remaining $56 million is directed at park development, land and infrastructure upgrades.