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Sooke Municipality Begins Campaign to Sell Sewage System

Mitch Moneo and Bryan Dreilich, Sooke News Mirror, February 21, 2001
The District of Sooke has begun an advertising campaign to sell residents on the benefits of a community sewage system for the village core.

The campaign, which includes full page advertisements in four consecutive editions of the Sooke News Mirror, outlines the findings of a sewage study conducted by Stantec Consulting for the municipality.

The series of paid advertisements is expected to deal with "technical solutions, financing options and the public approval process for the initiative."

The first installment published Feb 14 examined the environmental, social and economic benefits of a sewage collection treatment and disposal system.

Councillor John Farmer, who heads the district's sewerage steering committee is convinced a community sewage system is needed.

"We canot continue to do nothing or we'll be in serious trouble," Farmer said.

The first advertisement uses the negative environmental impact being caused by failing septic fields and tanks as incentive for a new sewage system.

CRD environmental health officer Chris Laughlin confirms the statistics regarding septic fields.

"There are 257 known septic fields in Sooke's core area. Statistics compiled by the CRD show that about 50 of these septic systems have failed in the past 20 years. There were 32 failures reported in the past 10 years. The CRD does nothave records prior to 1972.

Laughlin said Sooke's soil conditions are "on the poorer side" for on site septic systems. He said what tends to happin is over time the fields become less porous and the trenches seal up. >p>"I wouldn't say that there's more failures in Sooke than in other places, but what I've noticed in Sooke is that the repairs aren't easy like they are in Langford and Colwood where it's all sand and gravel."

Laughlin said repairs can cost as much as $15,000 if a package treatment plant has to be installed.

"What happens is that some older lots are so small that the field cannot be rebuilt or expanded so a treatment plant has to be used."

He said CRD health regulations now demand that new lots have 50 per cent of the field's side be set aside to accommodate future repairs.

The ad campaign fingers failing septic fields as the reason causing a permanent closure of shellfish harvesting from the Sooke Harbour and Basin.

"My goal is to bring back shellfish harvesting," Farmer said.

It's an honourable goal, but not once that will be easily obtainable with the introduction of a community sewage system for the village core.

DFIA aquaculture and shellfish specialist Klaus Schallie said the shellfish closure in the harbour and basin has been n effect since at least the 1970s - long before Sooke was densely populated an dhad so many failing septic systems.

Schallie said the majority of harbours and shorelines of urbanized areas have shellfish closures, regardless of their means of effluent treatment and disposal. He said in most cases it's unavoidable simply because rain running off into harbours and basins will carry enough cliform bacteria to make it a problem.

The approved standard for shellfish geometric mean or median cannot exceed 14 coliform bacteria per 100 mls of water, and no more than 10 per cent of the samples can exceed 43 coliform bacteria per 100 mls of water.

When asked whether sewage outfall into the Strait of Juan de Fuca would make a difference to shellfish closure in the harbour, Schallie was doubtful.

"If it was close, and barely made the standard, then perhaps it could make a difference."

Close, in Schallie's estimation, would be a geometric mean or median of 16 coliform bacteria per 100 mls of water, or 15 per cent of the samples exceeding 43 coliform bacteria per 100 mls of water.

There has not been any recent monitoring of the amount of fecal coliform in the harbour and basin, but the majority of measurements of surface runoff and storm sewage discharges have well exceeded the shellfish consumption guidelines. One was even as high as 80,000.

Undoubtedly faining on-site septic systems contribute to this problem.

Alan Mansell, a member of the BC On-Site Sewage Association and an experienced septic system installer and repair person, said simply looking at the humber of failures and concluding that septic fields do't work and should be replaced with anaother method of sewage disposal is misleading.

Mansell said one has to consider the reason for the failures.

He said Sooke's soil conditions is not optimum for filtration but properly designed septic fields which are regularly maintained still can perform well in the Sooke Core.

"If they didn't work why would they be allowed in the first place?"

Mansell said septic fields fail for any number of reasons, but the vast majority of fields in Sooke fail because they were not designed correctly when they were installed or because they are not regularly maintained. >p>"I got into the business 25 years ago. I traded a motorcycle for a backho and began putting septic fields. In 25 years little has changed."

Mansell said home builders spend about the same amount of money on septic systems as they do on a house's plumbing system and electrical system. But whereas plumbers and electricians have to be trained and certified before they do their job, septic field installers don't have to have any official training.

He said many home builders have purchased equipment from his store and then asked him to outline how the system has to be instaled on the back of a pice of scrap paper.

It's incredible."

The BC On-Site Sewage Association, along with Royal Roads University, has obtained federal funding to develop a training centre at Royal Roads.

Mansell said the association wants to develop regulations which ensure all septic system installers are trained and certified.

"In Sooke, I'd say the majority of the fields that are failing are in the Boom Hill subdivision. Those fields were not designed properly when theywere put in and now there are problems. Those problems could have been avoided if the fields were built properly."

Mansell added thathis association is also calling upon the provincial government to institute mandatory maintenance schedules, where permits are issued to homeowners every three years - something that is on the books in other jurisdictions.

"Most of the failures occur because people don't have regular maintenance done to their system. Some of the tanks haven't been emptied for 20 years, by then it's too late."

Mansell relates stories abouthomeowners who have had problems and called plumbers, only to be told that their septic tank is full.

"Tank? they say, 'I never knew that I had a tank."

Mansell said by the time septic fields fail it's too late. But if they were maintained properly and there was trouble, the problems would be identified and corrected.

"You would almost see all the problems melt away."

You can spend a little money on oil now or you can wait and spend big bucks when your engine seizes."

As to using septic field failures as a way to rationalzie a community sewage system, Mansell said it just doesn't hold water.

"If the municipality had mandatory maintenance requirements, failing septic fields wouldn't be an issue."

Mansell noted that municipal sewage treatment systems aren't infallible either.

The latest BC Environmental Progection Non-compliance List attests to this fact. In June 2000, 20 municipal sewage systems of about 1,000 operating in the province were cited as being polluters during the year. Many of them are repeat offenders.

The list includes the Capital Regional District, the Fraser Valley Regional District, the District of Powell River, the District of Sechelt, The Regional District of East Kootenay, the Ocean Falls Improvement District, the City of Wiliiams Lake, the District of Kitimat, the City of Terrace, the Town of Lake Cowichan, the District of Taylor and the City of Prince George. There were also a number of non-complying area specific sewage systems.

BC Environment's senior pollution prevention officer, Chris Jenkins said factors like design, construction, operation, maintenance, and financing can all be factors in why some existing municipal sewage systems fall out of compliance with environmental regulations.

Generally speaking, Jenkins said there are pros and cons of both approaches to sewage treatment and disposal.

?One has to look at objective technical information." Jenkins said, "That's why we recommend municipalities looking at new sewage systems or expanding existing systems develop a Liquid Waste management Plan."

Jenkins said the plan brings BC Environment's regional protection manager on board to work with a municipal contracted consultant and liquid waste advisory committees, one representing community/stakeholder interests and another representing technical interests, through the process to ensure the eventual outcome meet provincial objectives.

It ensures there is reliable technical information andmeaningful public participation," Jenkins said.

WRATH Commentary:

  • This is clearly an information gap in this article by individuals who have a personal agenda. What Ken Mansell omits from his discussion is that there are also other sources of coliform in Sooke which are more likely to be the source, such as hobby farms, boats in marinas, and resident bird population sin the estuary. Remember that Mr. Mansell makes his living from installing and maintaining septic tanks, which is probably why he omits discussion about other sources of coliform.
  • There is no scientific evidence to support a claim that fecal coliforms are coming from failing septic systems in Sooke core.

More articles to come. If you know of a relevant article, please contact WRATH and we will post it on this website.



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