Thursday, November 29, 2007

Poisonous Toilet

An inconceivable volume of sewage, over 37.8 billion litres with a raw discharge of 34.2 billion litres, is generated by the CRD (Capital Regional District) annually. Currently, Victoria has a major issue with the way sewage is processed and disposed of through the Clover Point and Macaulay Point pump stations. Until recently, numerous reports regarding the implementation of further processing facilities have been ignored. Some think processing facilities will hamper the beauty of the city; yet, from another perspective, these plants represent what Victoria should be: a steward of the environment. Implementing change in sewage treatment is necessary for the environment as well as for the way Victoria is viewed by other nations.

As we have seen, sewage is a potentially dangerous substance and must be handled properly. It is considered a variable liquid mixture and is composed of various materials: human waste, wash water, general urban rainfall run-off, surplus manufactured liquids from domestic sources, as well as industrial cooling and processing waters. Approximately 95% is water with the remainder consisting of bacteria, organic particles, inorganic particles, animals, macro-solids, gases, emulsions and toxins. In order to contain these waste products, prior to discharge into the ocean, treatment facilities are required. Sewage treatment is the process that removes the majority of the contaminants from wastewater or sewage and produces a liquid effluent, suitable for disposal to the natural environment, and a toxic sludge. There are three stages of treatment and currently the CRD pumps raw sewage directly into the ocean using only primary treatment.

The receiving waters are the Strait of Juan de Fuca primarily, and the Strait of Georgia. These vast bodies of water, through agitation and current, are expected to be the sewage treatment facilities for Victoria and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As seen by underwater photography, there is an area of polluting waste the size of Beacon Hill Park and as tall as B.C. Place at the end of the Clover Point outfall. From this site sewage plumes can be detected up to eight months of the year. The toxins in sewage go further than just polluting the local beaches; they integrate their way into the health of our families, the environment, and the local economy. In the article on a website called, Jennifer McLarty of Victoria News states ,”Using CRD samples taken from outfalls at Macaulay and Clover points between 2000 and 2003, Sierra Legal biologists discovered 19 out of 29 provincially monitored substances were present and that they exceeded legislated limits. The list of potentially harmful chemicals includes mercury, lead, copper and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons…” (1). Many of these toxic substances are bioaccumulants and contribute to biomagnification. These pollutants drastically affect benthic animals and organisms, and as a result the effluent is damaging shellfish populations: bylaws against harvesting have been established. Not only is primary treatment insufficient, “approximately 200-300 million litres of overflows and by-passes occur during moderate to heavy rainfall events.” (2). These numbers are staggering and treatment must be implemented immediately so these bodies of water do not turn into another one of the worlds “dead zones”.

In 2003, the CRD expanded its regional source control program. The program was implemented to control the amount of toxic waste introduced to the system from sources such as industrial, commercial, or residential sites. This is a move in the right direction; unfortunately, the main concern is the overall outfall produced by Victoria. Reports from the previous federal environment minister, former Victoria MP David Anderson, say there is no scientific evidence of the need for treatment. Furthermore, B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner, who had refused to commit money for sewage treatment in Greater Victoria, has recently defended the practice of pumping screened sewage into the ocean; he said that "science" would determine when the region would treat its sewage, not politics. Unfortunately, this “science” experiment is impossible to measure and does not have the proper means of composting. According to Dr. Ishiguro, Professor of the Microbiology Department at the University of Victoria, “ [First] we do not know where our sewage is going; [second] we do not know what is happening to it; and [last] we do not know how much “fertilizer” our waters will take… It is essential to understand that the breakdown of organic matter in any composting system, and this includes secondary storage treatment, is carried out by the metabolic activities of a complex community of organisms”(3). In addition, the areas used as control sites to measure and compare the effects of sewage on the environment are partially contaminated. Based on the 25 year LWMP (liquid waste management plan) no commitment to upgrade treatment levels at the main plants had been addressed and no discernable infrastructure changes had been made since 1999. Only recently has the LWMP been revised and progress is under way. Regrettably, Victoria was the only candidate amongst 22 cities in B.C. to get suspended from the National Sewage Report Card produced by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Many cities around the world utilize their waste efficiently. These countries have national standards for sewage treatment and have devised ways of harnessing the byproducts of waste management. Methane is a common product of sewage decomposition by anaerobic digestion (the breakdown of organic matter without the presence of oxygen). Since most sewage is capable of this, a remarkable alternative to flushing sewage directly into the ocean is Biofuel. In addition, other biomass products can be used for agriculture. As well as harnessing the gas emissions, the heavy metals extracted from the waste are profitable commodities; thus, the profits from these renewable resources will have a significant impact on the costs of operation of treatment facilities. The CRD has already begun to lessen the impacts due to sewage run off, Leachate from the Hartland Landfill and Recycling Area used to run untreated into the sewage and surrounding areas. Techniques to harness renewable energy produced by the byproducts of decomposition have been implemented. As a result, the environmental impact this facility has had on surrounding ecosystems is slowly being restored: a difficult task. Therefore, applying certain methods, as long as it is not to late, Victoria has the ability to reverse the severe damage done to the ocean due to untreated sewage. Mr. Floatie and friends have made a video called "Mr. Floatie Pushes for Poo Power" to promote resource recovery sewage treatment for the CRD!

I never understood the crude saying, “Flush twice, send water to the States”, but now the meaning is as clear as sewer can be.


1. Victoria News. “Enviro group say CRD data confirms pollution.” ecobc. 19 Nov. 2005.
< >. (20 Nov. 2007).

2. Sierra Legal Defence Fund. 2004. The national sewage report card (Number three): Grading the Sewage Treatment of 22 Canadian cities.
3. TBuck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. 2005. Victoria Sewage: Separating Myth from Fact.
< Sewage% 20Forum %20Final.pdf >.
(20 Nov. 2007).

1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

I like Mr. Floatie...looking forwards to episode II.

I am amazed that this city, in such a eco-friendly province does not do more...and about flushing twice...maybe the USA have figured that out a long time ago and have been flusing three times ever since!