May 29, 2015

Time to get over our fear of feces
- RSTV website back on line
Proposed sewer bylaw could mean big costs for Victoria-area homeowners
Kalynchuk's legacy
Westside sewage committee info update

An Earth Day Message (Nonen)
Seaterra must go (Petition of 62)
Time to get over our fear of feces

Derry McDonell Sr. 
Open Victoria blog
May 23, 2015
When in polite company, we’ve been told, there are two topics one should always avoid discussing: religion and politics. But here in Greater Victoria, you can add a third one: sewage treatment.

It’s true, very few people really want to think about what happens after you flush the toilet, let alone talk about it in public. What kind of sewage treatment is appropriate? Should there be one big treatment plant or a dozen small ones? Where should we put it, or them? Who should pay for it?  The collective response so far? EEEEEEEEEWWWWW!!!

And so, although the original plan to build a single, large treatment plant on the foreshore in Esquimalt was derailed, primarily for what's called “lack of social capital,” one can certainly understand now why the staff at the CRD and Seaterra chose not to ‘engage’ an antsy public until all of the most nasty questions had been answered--by them. It is also why now, even with a whole new political and public effort underway to reach a sewage solution by March of next year, we are still mired in a messy discussion about what to do and where to do it.

Worse yet, there are those who still believe the only way out of this spinning vortex is to demand (‘hope’ is perhaps a better word), that the province will step in, sweep all local government authority aside and issue a non-negotiable set of  marching orders. The skeptics include CFAX radio host Frank Stanford, Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Carter and no doubt some staff members at the CRD and Seaterra as well. And let's not forget those UVic scientists and ARREST supporters who continue to opine that we don’t need any new sewage treatment at all, federal law or no.

Regardless, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, chair of the CRD’s Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee and chair of the Eastside Select Committee, has issued a plea for the public to get more involved in the discussion. She reiterated that by June 30, a shortlist will be created from the 40 sites recently identified as ‘technically feasible’ for sewage treatment, followed by a technical evaluation of proposed treatment methods.  After that, the goal is to merge the Eastside and Westside processes, draft a joint plan for regional sewage treatment and have it approved by the CRD Board by March 31, 2016.

With such a tight timeline and so many decisions still to be made, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that exceptional efforts are underway at the political level to make the process as straightforward as possible. Simply put, all the focus now is on two questions: First, which type of sewage treatment process do we want to implement, and where should we locate the treatment plant or plants? Plus another key question: should it be a private or public operation? (Federal funding rules include a P3 evaluation.)

To consider the first question, one should keep in mind that effective sewage treatment involves two steps: separating solid matter from water and treating the water, and second, collecting the residual solids and treating them as well. The method of treatment applied in each step determines both the size and the operational support required by the plant(s) and also determines the number and size of sites appropriate for it.

It seems generally accepted that any new system for treating sewage water should meet the federal standard for tertiary treatment. Simply put, tertiary treatment should make all reclaimed sewage water safe enough to recycle onto land, into existing rivers and creeks, or used for commercial/industrial purposes. It should also eliminate the need for outfalls into the ocean.
The tougher question is what to do about the wastes extracted from sewage water, the residuals or biosolids. There are two residual treatment methods currently under consideration: anerobic digestion and gasification. The first was the method proposed by the CRD and Seaterra. The latter is the preferred method of several of the suppliers who have made presentations to the Westside and Eastside Select Committees.

Both methods have their supporters and their critics, although it is becoming clearer by the day that political support for anerobic digestion is waning. The original CRD plan entailed not only placing a large treatment plant on the Esquimalt foreshore but also miles of pipe to carry biosolids to the Hartland Landfill for treatment by anerobic digestion. Critics also cited the potential for contaminated leachate from the digestion process to leak into the water table at Hartland and/or be collected and sent back for disposal in the ocean via a return pipe.

But if anerobic digestion is out, how viable is the other option, tertiary water treatment combined with gasification of residuals?  There’s been a heated debate going on between gasification’s proponents and its detractors at the CRD and Seaterra for two years. But only since the defeat of McLaughlin Point and the search for an alternative has it really become a public discussion and an urgent one, since with mere months to make a decision, no other treatment option has been presented.

So what is gasification and why is it so controversial here in the CRD? Briefly, the gasification process takes partially dewatered residual wastes extracted from liquid sewage, mixes them with other solid waste material (wood chips, municipal solid waste e.g.)  and converts both into a flammable gas, called syngas. Combusting syngas produces both heat and electricity, both of which can be sold on the commercial market. Unlike incineration, with which it is often confused, gasification is a self-contained process that can be designed to avoid the emission of any pollutants or odours to the atmosphere.  Gasification also been shown to neutralize all bacteria, toxins, pharmaceuticals, micro plastics and other contaminants in sewage sludge, leaving only small amounts of ash.

The problem with gasification, say its critics, is twofold. First, it is a relatively new technology and therefore lacks a significant body of historical data for comparative analysis. There are approximately 107 gasification treatment plants (public and private) operating in the U.S. and Canada, at least that many again in Europe and in China. But the vast majority are less than 10 years old. For this reason, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, in a 2012 report on the subject, cautioned that gasification of sludges and biosolid residuals “should be considered an early commercial technology with limited data.” Dr. Rob Simm, chief of project development for Stantec, the CRD’s technical consultant for Seaterra told a recent CALWMC meeting that Stantec also views gasification as an emerging technology that still has some issues to resolve, particularly around the most effective waste mix required to operate it efficiently. It should be noted however that the EPA report also concluded that, given the potential benefits, “the scarcity of commercial (gasification) plants should not discourage the consideration of sludge gasification as a beneficial alternative to (anerobic digestion).”

But what about the comparative cost? CRD staff have insisted that their numbers show a gasification process would cost up to $120 million more to build than for anerobic digestion. Gasification proponents however, say this comparison is both biased and flawed. First, it compares only the initial capital cost of each, when it should be based on the total life-cycle cost to build and operate the plant over 50 years. By that method, even just the long-term value of the revenue stream generated by gasification would give it a distinct advantage. However the CRD failed to allow for any increase in the price of heat and electricity sold by the public or private owner over 50 years. Also missing, say gasification proponents, are the considerable savings to be gained from being able to add capacity to a gasification plant only when the need exists, rather than build a 50-year capacity up front . Bottom line, says Bryan Gilbert, spokesperson for the RITE group, is that even allowing for a $120 million difference in startup costs, if one measures it over a 50-year life cycle, using gasification would slash at least $532 million or 68% from the $782 million the CRD has estimated for using anerobic digestion over the same period.

That is a startling difference in price, especially as it also claims to meet the highest standard of treatment for both water and residual waste treatment. And yet, at this point, it has yet to be challenged publicly. And it should be, especially by the Eastside and Westside Select Committees, who are currently writing the terms of reference and selecting the technical advisors to conduct this step. But it should also be questioned by the taxpaying public, especially those who say they want the most environmentally effective treatment system we can afford. The clock is ticking.
RSTV website back on line

 - "Questioning Victoria's current reatment plans"

RSTV's information website is now back online as a resource for the science behind our marine-based sewage treatment system:
Proposed sewer bylaw could mean big costs for Victoria-area homeowners

MAY 26, 2015

Homeowners could be forced to make thousands of dollars in repairs or replace cracked or blocked sewer lines on their own properties under a model bylaw being circulated by the Capital Regional District.

CRD staff estimate the average cost to repair or replace what’s known as a lateral — the sewer pipe connecting a house to a municipal sewer line — if it’s found to be defective could be between $5,000 and $10,000.

The bylaw now being circulated to the municipalities would require homeowners to maintain the sewer pipes on their properties, making sure they are not cracked or broken and that they’re clear of obstructions such as roots or debris and not cross-connected to a storm drain.

It would authorize the municipality to inspect the line and order repairs if necessary. “We live in an old city — our housing stock is among the oldest in British Columbia. So everyone’s got to take part in fixing the problem,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who chairs the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee.

Municipalities are being asked to consider implementing the bylaw. While the model bylaw suggested penalties of up to $10,000 and six months in jail for failing to comply, Helps said no one is expected to be jailed.

Sewer laterals account for 55 per cent of the pipe in the sewer system, and in the core areas of Oak Bay, Victoria, Esquimalt and Saanich, much of that pipe is 70 years-plus old. Problems occur when rainwater enters the sanitary sewer system through what’s called inflow and infiltration: Inflow is rainwater entering sewer pipes through cross-connections, while infiltration is ground water entering the sewer system through cracks in pipes or leaky joints.

Sewers are designed with enough capacity for a certain amount of inflow and infiltration, but when there’s too much, it results in overflows. As the CRD inches toward building a sewage-treatment system, the objective is to reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration so the plant that is eventually built is treating effluent and not rainwater.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said addressing the problem is crucial to reducing sewer flows and the resulting requirement for sewage treatment. “Spending money on [inflow and infiltration] and getting people to deal with that situation and that problem really helps in the future in terms of what exactly are the flows and what are we treating?” Desjardins said.

Under the proposed model bylaw, municipalities have the option of offering no-interest loans to homeowners to assist in repairing or replacing a defective lateral, as well as incentives to offset the cost of inspection and repairs.

The four core municipalities have committed to reducing inflow and infiltration. Oak Bay has a major problem with it because there is no separation of storm and sanitary sewers in the Uplands, Helps said.

“We are building a plant that is treating Oak Bay’s rainwater, not just their sewage, because there is no separation,” Helps said.

Oak May Mayor Nils Jensen told the core area liquid waste committee his municipality has just awarded a contract for design work on separating the two, and a plan is in place to use gas-tax funds to do the work in phases.

The problem isn’t nearly as acute in newer municipalities such as Colwood or Langford, where the sewer pipes are relatively new.
Kalynchuk's legacy
David Broadland's revealing story in Focus (June) about efforts to hide CRD sewage plant cost estimates. 

Excerpt: "The CRD is fighting to prevent release of a record that could show how badly it estimated one of the costs of sewage treatment."

Kalynchuk's legacy:
Westside sewage committee info update

The website has been updated with information that may interest you. This update includes the raw data that was collected at the Westside Solutions Roundtables:
· Westside Roundtable Result Cover Page (PDF)
· Siting and Community Integration Roundtable - May 6, 2015 (PDF)
· Resource and Recovery Roundtable - May 9, 2015 (PDF)
· Cost and Level of Treatment Roundtable - May 13, 2015 (PDF)
You can find this item on the “In Your Community” page of the Westside Solutions Website. We will continue to update the website with information and to share what we have been hearing from members of the community.


An Earth Day Message (Nonen)

Focus June 2015

Murray Rankin’s Earth Day message in Focus’ April edition states “New investment in infrastructure and public transit can offer urban residents quicker commutes and cleaner air.” It is extremely difficult to reconcile this statement with the fact that Mr Rankin supports enhanced sewage treatment in the CRD. The unfortunate fact is, tax dollars wasted on needless sewage treatment construction and operating costs will starve any meaningful investment in future public transit initiatives (like light rail). And that is neither good for the environmental health of the CRD or the Earth.

Dave Nonen

Seaterra must go (Petition of 62)

Focus June 2015

[The following letter was addressed to Lisa Helps as chair of the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee (CALWMC) and copied to all CALWMC directors and alternates.]

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, are a group of concerned business owners from the Capital Regional District. The reason for our concern is both past and recent developments regarding the Seaterra program and CRD staff.

In its relatively short history, the name Seaterra has already become synonymous with the high cost of bypassing meaningful public consultation. The project’s track record of questionable expenditures, ill advised land acquisitions, and in camera decisions is already well documented. Thankfully the program was paused last year. However, in the intervening months, both Seaterra management and CRD staff have seemed unable to adapt to the region’s new direction regarding sewage treatment.

As recently as the last Core Area meeting (April 8), directors found out that the Seaterra Commission was still meeting, via conference call, without reporting minutes and that the winning bid on the McLoughlin Request for Proposal was being extended without the committee’s input. At this point, it would seem management is either unaware of or unwilling to meet the mandated level of transparency. Regardless of the project’s status, this kind of backroom operating is just simply no longer acceptable.

Far more worrisome is the apparent cross-pollination between the project, the contracted engineering consultant, and CRD staff. What has been a brewing problem within the CRD for years has finally boiled over into a palpable distrust. Suspicions that staff and consultants are attempting to steer the process towards a predetermined outcome threaten to undermine both the efforts of the Select Committees and the integrity of the CRD itself. The CALWMC’s refusal to accept a staff report on February 18 serves as a public confirmation of the conflict.

In the six months since the municipal election, itself a de facto referendum on Seaterra, considerable progress has been made in regards to creating an open and accountable process through the Select Committees. However, if a majority of CALWMC directors feel there has been any attempt by CRD staff or project management to interfere with or obfuscate the process currently underway, further action must be taken. It is certainly understandable to want to spare real people the embarrassment that can come with accountability, but any further accommodation would surely risk undoing the gains made by voters on November 15.

As a group of business owners with a considerable stake in sewage treatment, we’d like to express our support for any democratic means necessary, including a non-confidence vote, to bring a positive resolution to this situation. With tens of millions in unrecoverable costs, the Seaterra Program has already left an expensive and embarrassing legacy for the region’s taxpayers. We know that the CALWMC is far from unanimous in its feelings towards the project and the Select Committees. However, we encourage the new chair and the progressive voices within to bring a definitive end to Seaterra and any related dysfunction within the CRD.

62 Victoria-area business owners signed the letter which can be viewed at the CRD’s website with the agenda for the May 13, 2015 CALWMC meeting