Add truth to sewage treatment

It was also suggested that the federal government will require tertiary treatment within 10 to 15 years.

I was discouraged by the misleading and incorrect statements on sewage treatment at the first Oak Bay all candidates meeting on Oct. 23.

For example, the Saanich Peninsula Sewage Treatment Plant is not an example of a distributed system, as was stated at the meeting; it is a centralized system. The Peninsula plant consolidated the existing treatment plants serving Sidney, Central and North Saanich into a single plant because that was the most cost effective option. Likewise, the current centralized plant option reduced the cost estimate of the 2010 Core Area three-plant option (Saanich, Esquimalt and Colwood) by $180 million, from just under $1 billion. Multiple plants cost more than a single plant.

Some candidates are promoting tertiary treatment, citing Kelowna as a positive example. Existing regulations required these Okanagan communities to use tertiary treatment with nutrient removal to avoid eutrophication of Okanagan Lake. It is a step that is unnecessary for discharge to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The capital and operating costs of tertiary treatment are greater than for secondary treatment.

It was also suggested that the federal government will require tertiary treatment within 10 to 15 years. Under the 2012 regulations the federal government has mandated that all municipalities have a minimum of secondary treatment by 2040.  It is pure speculation to suggest that new regulations will be introduced before municipalities have to comply with the existing regulation.

Dockside Green and, on a previous occasion, Sechelt were cited as examples of what we should be doing. Unfortunately, both have a small fraction of the capacity needed to treat the core area sewage. The Dockside Green model is not applicable to our low density neighbourhoods, while Sechelt is a liquids-only treatment facility with minimal resource recovery. Comparing the unit cost (i.e. capital cost divided by capacity) of Sechelt with the McLoughlin bid, the Sechelt technology is over four times more expensive. The current proposal includes the latest secondary treatment technology, resource recovery in the form of biogas, biosolids and heat, and has the lowest cost of the many options and configurations evaluated.

The decision by Esquimalt not to amend the zoning at McLoughlin Point illustrates that any municipality in the CRD can veto CRD initiatives. It’s unfortunate that the province has not provided the CRD with the same powers enjoyed by Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver is proceeding with the North Vancouver wastewater treatment plant without the requirement to rezone the site.

Consideration of a new location will result in a delay of two years or more while a new site is selected, the public consulted, rezoning approved, environmental assessments completed, preliminary design undertaken, the Liquid Waste Management Plan amended and approved, funding agreements renegotiated and construction contract procured.

Reference was made to the ‘Blue Bridge of sewage’ presumably as a reference to the likelihood of cost overruns. The bids received for the Craigflower Pump Station and McLoughlin Wastewater Treatment Plant both came in under budget; however, further delays increase the likelihood that the current budget will be exceeded.

Agreements are in place with the province and P3 Canada for funding in excess of $300 million as is a letter of intent from Infrastructure Canada for the balance of the $500 million. Had the zoning amendment requested by CRD at McLoughlin Point been approved, the Infrastructure Canada agreement would have been signed off. With the ongoing delays, all of the agreements will have to be renegotiated, which raises the possibility that some or all of the funding could be lost.

Both mayoralty candidates affirmed the need for a qualified municipal planner so that council could get expert advice prior to making decisions. Yet when it comes to sewage treatment, it appears that expert advice is not necessary. The individuals cited as having been consulted have neither the relevant academic or professional qualifications, nor experience in planning and designing sewage treatment projects and cannot be relied upon for sound advice.

Therefore, as we move forward with sewage treatment and resource recovery, I hope that we will have the wisdom to seek advice from people with relevant credentials and experience while challenging them to think ‘outside the box’, and not give undue credibility to people whose only qualification is their ability to explore the internet.

Sadly, I fear that with all the current uncertainty and diversity of opinion, we are all going to pay a lot more for sewage treatment than under the current plan.

Jack Hull was the interim program director on the sewage treatment project from 2010 to 2013.

 

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