A promise of funding for Victoria’s long-awaited sewage treatment plant has done nothing to cool off a debate about the effects associated with dumping waste into the ocean.
The Victoria area has been pumping 130 million litres of raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for years. But governments recently pledged to change the way the region deals with its waste.
On Monday, officials at the federal, provincial and regional level announced joint funding for construction of a $782-million secondary sewage treatment system.
The Core Area Wasteater Treatment Plant (CAWTP) will consist of the McLoughlin Wastewater Treatment Plant and Marine Outfall, a Biosolids Energy Centre and Conveyance System Upgrades.
The project has been a long time coming for many residents, who have long advocated for secondary sewage treatment.
But not everyone is in support of the new system.
In a letter to the editor Thursday, former environment minister David Anderson suggested governments are pandering to public opinion while ignoring the data.
“[T]his is another example in a series that shows its fundamental lack of respect for science,” he wrote about Monday’s announcement.
He said there is evidence to show that the current system of sewage disposal is superior to on-shore treatment, like that the CRD is proposing.
Anderson is not alone.
Chris Garrett, a marine scientist at the University of Victoria, said it’s clear from the monitoring done by the CRD that sending sewage into the ocean has a minimal impact on the environment.
A secondary sewage treatment plant “might lead to very minor improvements, but no one would really notice,” he said.
Thomas Pedersen, executive director for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, agreed.
“There is no damage being caused by Victoria sewage,” he said.
He said the fast-moving water off the Strait of Juan de Fuca naturally disposes of the waste while oxygenating the water.
“We’re throwing money at a problem that does not exist,” he said, adding that the nearly $800 million set aside for the new system would be better spent on other environmental projects.
But John Werring, a long-time advocate for sewage treatment in Victoria, disagreed with their assessment of the scientific data.
“I don’t think there’s a scientist worth their salt who would say dumping 130 million litres a day of raw sewage into the ocean is a good thing to do,” said Werring.
He said sewage contains pollutants that can be harmful to marine life.
Although there is no definitive study to support his view, Werring’s belief that the CRD should not be dumping its sewage in the ocean is shared by governing bodies.
Werring, who now works for the Suzuki Foundation, has been decrying the effects of dumping raw sewage in the ocean for nearly two decades.
In 2004, he filed a complaint against the CRD alleging its method of sewage disposal violated the province’s Contaminated Sites Regulations.
That complaint eventually led the B.C.’s then-Environment Minister to demand the CRD construct a secondary sewage treatment plant.
The provincial and federal governments have also pledged their support by putting aside $248 million and $253 million respectively for the new system.
But Garrett and Pedersen remain committed to their opinion.
“If we really thought this was a big issue, marine scientists would be the first to holler about it,” said Garrett.