The Pacific Northwest certainly holds a reputation as forward thinking in terms of the environment. So it may come as a shock to some that Victoria, B.C., still dumps raw sewage—albeit through a screen to take out the really big “stuff”—directly into the Straight of Juan De Fuca, the body of water that separates Vancouver Island, the home of Victoria, from the nearby San Juan Islands of Washington State (Victoria is actually south of Vancouver and directly east of Washington state).
And it isn’t like Victoria hasn’t known it has been doing this for eons. Everyone is well aware of the obvious oversight on the part of the province’s capital of putting 34 million gallons per day of untreated sewage into the water. In fact, decisions have been made in the past to not treat the wastewater, saying that the fast-moving waters of the strait actually whisk away the dangers of the sewage.
As one of the only—if not the only—major city in North America to still dump untreated sewage into a waterway, change had to come eventually. But it can take a long time, especially when multi-million dollar treatment facilities and government bureaucrats are involved. Of course, a little pressure from your neighbors to the south and embarrassed friends in Vancouver helps a bit too.
So just because the B.C. Environment Minister, Barry Penner, said back in 2006 that Victoria and its surrounding region needed to do something about the 40 billion liters of sewage per year discharged into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, that didn’t mean that anything tangible happened right away. And while the wheels are finally now in motion on those tangible results, don’t expect real change until 2016, at the earliest.
Just last week Penner signed off on a plan—the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan—to build a treatment facility that will serve Victoria residents by 2016. Yeah, 2016. It sure does take a while, eh? Of course, some people are saying that 2020 may be more realistic for the $738 million facility to come online.
The new plan incorporates resource recovery, conservation and innovation, according to officials, and actual treating of sewage, which is the one point that makes sense to everyone. The plan aims to first actually treat sewage at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt with a new facility. Plus, a biosolids processing facility will be constructed at the Hartland landfill in the future.
But before we completely hammer Victoria and British Columbia too hard—although it isn’t like they don’t deserve it for completely overlooking the risks involved with pouring raw sewage into my waterways (I live in northern Washington, straight over from Victoria, in fact)—let’s give them credit for getting the ball rolling on massive overhauls that will ultimately turn the tide on its practices.
Hopefully soon Victoria can become a model for wastewater treatment, giving the rest of Canada something to strive for. But judging by the city’s track record, let’s not bank on that.