Photo: It's time to end the sewage treatment war in Victoria

This may look like a pristine coastline, but millions of litres of raw sewage are being dumped into this area each day, threatening human and ecosystem health. (Credit: palestrina55 via Flickr.)

By John Werring, Senior Science and Policy Advisory, David Suzuki Foundation

The Victoria sewage debate has been swirling for decades, but it's the same anti-treatment advocates sowing seeds of discontent. They're now trying to grow an oak tree from a sesame seed. Many are worried that when the Capital Regional District finally builds sewage treatment plants to manage millions of litres of raw sewage being dumped into the ocean each day, along with the tonnes of toxic chemicals in that sewage, their taxes will go up. They advocate either for no sewage treatment at all or for delaying a plan to build new treatment facilities that has been years in the making, a plan that they had the opportunity to participate in developing. The plan, they say, is not the right one for the region. The call now is for more planning and consultation to try to come up with a better plan.

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Why? To delay the inevitable. No plan can get every detail right and silence these critics, but more delays will only increase costs.

They have no problem with the idea that the CRD would continue to dump raw sewage containing human waste, microorganisms, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, excreted pharmaceuticals and pathogens such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B into the ocean for another 20 years. They say the waste is just 99.93 per cent water. It's not dumping or raw sewage, according to these advocates. "Raw sewage", they say, is a "term used by engineers" to describe sewage effluent that is collected from households, industry and business by a sewerage system prior to any treatments or disposal. The CRD does not treat sewage in any way — it is merely screened to remove large "floatables". In that sense, it cannot be called raw, their argument goes. Give me a break!

These anti-treatment groups, which include a growing number of acronym names such as ARESST, RSTV and STAG, went into this battle advocating against any kind of sewage treatment whatsoever. They lost that one — big time. They went into the next fight with the slogan, "Stop a Bad Plan, Go With a Good Plan". They lost that one too. Next up was the war cry, "Stop a Bad Plan, We Need a Better Plan." Now it is a call for the RITE (Respectful, Innovative, Tax Friendly, Environmental) plan.

This debate has been swirling around like water in a flushed bowl for way too long. Eventually the turmoil dies down, becomes polluted with more crap and, thankfully, gets flushed away again. Unfortunately, the end result remains the same: the ocean and its web of life become more polluted with the crap that we throw at it — and each other.

It is time to end this debate once and for all. Like responsible homeowners who remove old water-gobbling toilets in favour of new water-saving units, the CRD must upgrade our old dilapidated polluting wastewater treatment system and do the right thing.

People in the CRD think so too. More than 80 per cent of citizens in the CRD support sewage treatment.

The current proposal may not be a perfect plan, but it is a long overdue one. Continuing to delay action can only put our health and our ecosystem's health in further peril.

December 11, 2013

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Dec 11, 2013
11:47 AM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that the current plan does nothing at all to deal with the toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and that they are a MUCH bigger problem than the human waste.

Yes, the debate has gone on for much too long — but that doesn’t mean we should just press ahead with a plan that doesn’t fix the problem.

Dec 11, 2013
11:59 AM

It is another example of way too much talk and no action — just get it done. This is more than an embarrassment it is an environmental crime! There should never be any debate about the need to have users pay to dispose of their waste.

Dec 11, 2013
1:56 PM

I consider myself an environmentalist. If this is the official voice of the David Suzuki Foundation, then they no longer have any credibility with me. Even if you believe in land based treatment, the proposed plan is inefficient and will accomplish little, except perhaps to make a few uninformed individuals feel better. Oh, and several contractors a little richer.

Jan 13, 2014
2:56 AM

I am a bit of a greeny and an avid wildlife photographer. Look, this sewage thing is important yes. But what about the continued, unabated and utterly un-regulated amounts plastics being introduced into the worlds ecosystems. Primarily the oceans. Australia as an example, even now, still uses nearly 5 Billion plastic bags per annum. Imagine, if you can, what comes out of China and India. I’m an Aussie and have used reusable bags for years. I don’t know the figures but surely we are coming to a point where societies that rely heavily on seafood (i.e Japan) will be compromised by the continued madness of this. There are now so many fish and marine birds in decline because of Plastic. It’s absurd that no one government seems to be serious about this closely impending disaster. Amongst Many. I fear for the future of the oceans, and indeed of ourselves. My country, as our anthem suggests, is “Girt by sea”. Heaven help us.

Feb 03, 2014
7:04 PM

The in-action of Victoria is an embarrassment to all human kind. I imagine a public outcry would erupt if governments of urban centres elsewhere in the world started dumping and said “oh, it’s ok to spread untreated sewage in the woods, in the rivers, in the oceans because (natural processes) look after it. And “besides, the BC government let’s Victoria do it, so it must be ok.”
I never voice my thoughts publicly, but I’m astonished this is happening right before our eyes. Thank you David Suzuki for bringing the matter to public attention.

Mar 13, 2014
5:11 PM

The global warming debate is not over, and neither is the debate over sewage treatment in Victoria. There are no human health effects of the current system and to insinuate otherwise is a flat-out lie. As for the marine life around the diffusers, they are larger and contain lower concentrations of toxins than those found away from the diffusers. The only real effect is a lack of “biodiversity” around the diffusers—in the same way that there is a lack of biodiversity of birds at the dump. Read ALL of the SETAC report, not just the executive summary. Large tax increases to pay for a useless project may not be important for the champagne environmentalists in Oak Bay, but they are to everyone else.

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