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Optics trump evidence in sewage fiasco

Optics trump evidence in sewage fiasco - Forcing a change to land-based treatment in Victoria is undemocratic, unreasonable.

Rebecca Warburton Times Colonist March 8, 2016

The antics accelerate at the Capital Regional District, which has spent or committed $60 million to $80 million of public money without ever commissioning a study comparing the environmental impact and costs for our current ocean-based sewage system versus land-based treatment. 

Why has the CRD not asked what we would get for our money?

The CRD says on its website: “The CRD has a mission to be local government leaders in providing cost-effective, innovative and environmentally responsible sewage treatment to its residents.” Just what our current system delivers.
Under one-size-fits-all federal regulations, Victoria has been misclassified as high-risk (land-based treatment required by 2020) instead of low-risk (treatment deferred to 2040). Federal guidelines demand local cost-benefit analysis before funding, but this provision has been ignored.
Why has the CRD not asked the feds to classify Victoria low-risk, conduct a cost-benefit analysis, or preferably do both? 
The federal regulations are intended to protect drinking water and prevent environmental harm.
Paradoxically, however, in Victoria, land-based sewage treatment would both cause environmental harm and endanger drinking water. According to a 2013 CRD-commissioned report, land-based treatment would have 11 harmful environmental, health or economic effects on land and no beneficial effects, and there are seven additional harms that the CRD report overlooked.
Among the 18 harms are:
• negative human health effects from construction dust, noise, and truck traffic, including construction-related injuries or deaths;
• serious disruption to tourism businesses during construction;
• risks of sludge pipeline leaks in residential neighbourhoods served by well water;
• explosion hazards from biosolids “digesters”;
• 16,000 tonnes of GHGs during construction, and 8,000 tonnes annually; and
• reduction in property values in neighbourhoods near new or modified facilities.
There is dangerous group-think going on with core-area and CRD politicians — no one wants to say the emperor has no clothes. But the public can see the naked truth, and they will not thank politicians for squandering billions on this fiasco.
And, make no mistake, if current estimates are about $1 billion to $1.5 billion, then the final cost, including cost overruns and operating costs, would undoubtedly be $2 billion to $3 billion, which would put a crushing tax burden on this area for the rest of this century and beyond.
Many CRD politicians cite their concern for the ocean. Yet marine scientists from B.C. and Washington state agree that our treatment system causes only very minor negative effects on the ocean, making land-based treatment a low priority for marine environmental protection. Screened sewage effluent is 99.9 per cent water. Basic organic matter is food for ocean creatures, and disperses rapidly in the cold, turbulent waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Microplastics, metals, etc., are best dealt with by source control. The CRD already has exemplary source control for businesses, and toxic chemicals are not a serious problem; Victoria’s sewage effluent (undiluted) meets the Canadian drinking water standards for metals, in most cases being below the maximum amounts by a factor of 1,000 or more.
Victoria’s worst problem, related to sewage, are the occasional overflows to local beaches via storm drains during heavy winter rains. Ironically, landbased sewage treatment system would not address this problem.
For a fraction of the cost of unnecessary land-based sewage treatment, the CRD could expand commercial source control, develop exemplary source control for households and correct beach overflows.
On the side of science and sanity are concerned marine scientists, medical health officers, engineers and many well-informed citizens. All want to protect the ocean, but not via land-based sewage treatment, at least not until an independent cost-benefit study demonstrates the need.
The tens of millions wasted to date are a drop in the bucket compared to what will be flushed down the toilet — via transfer to engineering and construction companies — if this multibilliondollar juggernaut continues. Forcing the capital region to move to land-based sewage treatment is a triumph of optics over evidence. Forcing such a change without a referendum is undemocratic and unreasonable. This is no way to run a country. Taxpayers deserve better.
CRD residents, speak up, and tell CRD politicians: The emperor has no clothes.



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