Treated sewage will be shipped from Greater Victoria to Nanaimo in the near term as the region has decided to stray further from its own policies.
The Capital Regional District board on Feb. 8 approved amending its short-term biosolids contingency plan to allow the pellet-like end-product of locally processed sewage to be spread on non-agricultural lands.
The emergency alternative of sending the biosolids to land applying programs in the Nanaimo area is expected to cost $65,000, which is predicted to be lower than the cost of landfilling the product.
B.C. requires biosolids to have a beneficial end use, and burying them at the landfill does not meet those standards. While long-term plans are still in the exploratory phase, the CRD’s main provincially approved short-term (before 2025) plan is to send the material to Richmond’s Lafarge cement plant, where they’re used as an alternative fuel in the place of coal.
Planned and unplanned issues at the plant have led to Lafarge not being able to take the biosolids at many points in recent years and it only took in 14 per cent of what the CRD produced in 2022. Shipping the biosolids over the Malahat will be done in the coming weeks, and until Lafarge can once again accept them.
Various programs around Nanaimo could use the CRD product for forest fertilization, gravel mine reclamation and to aid in addressing topsoil nutrient deficiencies in disturbed areas at a forestry site. Those represent various kinds of land application – a policy the CRD does not support but has dialed back its prohibitions on in recent years.
It’s for that reason directors at the Feb. 8 meeting said the regional body would be hypocritical to send its biosolids to be land applied elsewhere on the Island when it doesn’t want to do so within CRD borders.
“I will be extremely disappointed if this motion goes forward and I am really concerned about what message were sending to our community,” Esquimalt mayor Barb Desjardins said.
A coalition of community groups, which includes some businesses like the Butchart Gardens, have long opposed the land application of biosolids over public health and environmental concerns. Several directors on Feb. 8 agreed and said that more studies are needed.
Directors who supported sending the material up-Island agreed with staff, who say the scientific consensus is that land application is safe when done properly, and noted senior governments tasked with monitoring potential harms also approve the practise.
They worried that the CRD is and would continue to not be compliant with provincial requirements if it continues to landfill biosolids, and warned the region might have to bare fines and other repercussions if it didn’t take the emergency action.
Adding more sewage product to the dump also comes with its own issues as staff said the cell – where garbage is stored underneath aggregate for decomposition – where biosolids and soils are being mixed will be exhausted by March.
“The challenge is we’re filling cell three up much quicker because the biosolids are being added, so 10 tonnes a day of biosolids turns into 40,000 tonnes a day of material,” said Glenn Harris, senior manager of environmental protection.
Staff looked into 30 other emergency alternatives but found no other immediate options than land application. As the board as a whole lamented the lack of short-term options, a report coming next month will cover the viability of several thermal processing pilots that could be long-term beneficial use solutions for the regions.
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