The case for sewage treatment not made

Basic questions have not yet been asked, let alone answered

by David Anderson
Times Colonist
January 24, 2010

One of the best-known parables in the Bible is about two men building
houses, one on a foundation of rock and one on a foundation of sand
(Matthew 7:24-29).

The message of the parable is appropriate here in Greater Victoria as
decisions are faced on proposals for the largest infrastructure project in
the Capital Regional District's history, on-land secondary treatment of
the region's waste water.

Years of expensive effort by consultants, CRD staff and committee members
have gone into the December report to the provincial government on the
sites required by the system. According to media reports, no member of the
committee believes that the sites chosen are the best.

The CRD admits that it is to satisfy a reporting date technicality and
does not represent what they would really like to do.

They are right on that. As yet, the CRD has made no decision on the
wastewater technology to be used.

Under those circumstances it is impossible to know what the requirements
of the technology will be, and thus impossible to know where are the right
places to locate it.

Meanwhile, last week in Oak Bay, one of the largest groups of people ever
to attend an Oak Bay council meeting gathered to express their displeasure
at another aspect of the plans for the regional wastewater system, namely
the plan for a pressure wastewater pipe and pump system to separate
household waste water and storm runoff water for 380 homes in the Uplands.

The reason that residents are rejecting the wastewater plans is simple.

The CRD, the municipalities and the provincial government are doing the
planning, preparing, and the construction of the on-land secondary
treatment plan without first doing the required analysis of the need.

To return to the parable of the two builders, they are working on the
upper storeys without paying attention to the foundations in the sand.

The case for the construction of on-land secondary treatment facilities
has not been made.

The questions that must be thoroughly answered start with an analysis of
possible weaknesses of the present system and move from there to
subsequent questions of technologies and cost of dealing with the
deficiencies discovered, assuming deficiencies are found.

In other words, the foundation is a clear understanding of the problem.
The provincial government, the CRD and residents have no such
understanding now, either for the system as a whole or for the Oak Bay
separated wastewater system.

When asked about this lack of analysis, out-of-context quotes of a report
by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry are given as the
scientific justification for on-land secondary treatment.

There is no evidence from the science of the SEATAC report that on-land
secondary treatment is needed at this time. (More discussion of that and
other reports can be found at

Some months ago, 10 University of Victoria professors in marine biology,
oceanography and similar disciplines took the unusual step of stating that
in their view there are no net benefits to the environment from the
proposed on-land secondary treatment of wastewater in our area. Similarly,
six current and former health officers have issued a letter stating that
in their view there are no health benefits.

These are respected professionals. They have decades of experience with
the issue.

On the issues of the impact of the CRD's wastewater system on health and
the environment, they are the most knowledgeable people to be found. Their
two statements should have rung alarm bells with the CRD and provincial

Instead, the chairperson of the CRD's core area liquid-waste management
committee publicly dismissed them as out of touch and said their views
simply waste time that should be used for getting on with the

No wonder capital region residents are upset. The CRD and the provincial
government appear determined to ignore the best available expert
scientific advice and spend a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to
create a treatment system that is highly unlikely to improve either public
health or the marine environment.

Building a house on a sand foundation appears almost sensible in comparison.

- David Anderson served as Victoria's MP for 13 years, retiring in 2006.
He also served four years as the MP for Esquimalt-Saanich and four years
as Victoria's MLA. When an MP he served as minister of fisheries and
oceans and environment.