Residents in Sooke are concerned about the imminent tax hikes to pay for the new sewer system.

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Sewage Sorrows [in Victoria and Greater Vancouver]

By Christianne Wilhelmson for Strait Talk, July 2003

The fight to get sewage treatment for Victoria’s Capital Regional District (CRD) was dealt a blow this spring when BC’s Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, the Hon. Joyce Murray, quietly approved the region’s Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP).

The plan does not require the CRD to take any immediate steps to stop dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, it will be another decade before the regional district even has to consider the possibility of secondary treatment. Instead, the minister agreed to public education to reduce toxic contaminants in sewage, and the development of a "trigger" process to identify if and when enough harm might be occurring to the marine environment to require treatment.

The Minister’s letter of approval outlined a number of monitoring requirements and deadlines for the CRD to meet over the next few years, beyond what the CRD had proposed. The "trigger" approach means that if certain levels of contamination were exceeded, the CRD would be required to build a primary treatment plant within the subsequent three years.

If the CRD and province develop a process that is biologically sensitive and comprehensive enough to detect the earliest signs of contamination, and set these as the trigger, it is possible that some waste treatment could be in place within a few years in Victoria under Minister Murray’s plan. It’s a risky approach, based on the assumptions that those setting the trigger will get it right and that three years will be fast enough to prevent irreparable harm – but of course, there is no "signpost" showing what precisely what level of cumulative damage to the marine environment is "too much".

Victoria is not the only trouble spot in our region to get off lightly. Two of the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s (GVRD) treatment plants are still only at primary level, and the GVRD’s antiquated combined sewage overflows are still allowed to discharge raw sewage and toxic contaminants into local waters whenever a heavy rain causes an overflow.

Minister Murray recently approved the GVRD’s LWMP, which sets an extremely slow timeline for resolving these issues. The approved plan gives the GVRD until 2030 to upgrade the two plants to secondary treatment and 2050 to eliminate the combined sewer overflows!

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the Ministry, the CRD and the GVRD, and working to ensure they live up to all the commitments and deadlines outlined in the approvals. We’ll also be urging the federal government to take the necessary steps to begin enforcing the federal Fisheries Act. If this Act was applied consistently to municipal wastewater, it could go a long way toward eliminating sewage pollution and moving all our communities to a minimum of secondary treatment.



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