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.