Far more pressing issues than for local waters

Scientists challenge perception of current sewage situation as a priority

We are the three Canadian marine scientists who served on the BC/Washington Marine Science Panel in 1993-94, along with three American colleagues.

Our report on the shared marine waters was based on a two-day conference in Vancouver, where expert papers were presented on a wide variety of topics.

Each topic was reviewed jointly by one American and one Canadian scientist. We also held public hearings in Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle, welcomed written briefs, and consulted numerous published scientific reports.

According to the article in the Oak Bay News on 1 April, former premier Mike Harcourt characterized our findings  as “bizarre.” In 2001 he told one of us that “You guys didn’t give me the answer I wanted.” Similar sentiments were expressed south of the border.

Where we apparently failed in the view of the politicians was in not finding significant problems with Victoria’s current sewage disposal practices.

We were far more concerned with higher priority issues. Juan de Fuca Strait is very different from Puget Sound. Land-based sewage treatment in Victoria was not even mentioned in our list of recommendations. Twenty years later it remains very low on a shopping list that focuses on protecting the marine environment in the Victoria region.

To be sure, there are some components of the wastewater whose impacts need to be assessed and they may require at least further source control.

But what we find truly bizarre is that there has been no attempt to define and evaluate the issues in any rational and quantitative manner. All the emphasis is on imposing solutions that are largely unrelated to potential problems.

Tragically, the sewage imbroglio removes attention and resources from much more pressing marine concerns such as habitat loss, the impacts of increasing marine traffic, pressures on fish stocks, invasive species, the scarcity of marine protected areas, and the impacts of global warming and ocean acidification.

If we are to do our best to protect and preserve our shared marine waters, it is surely better to base actions on objective scientific assessments rather than on popular perceptions or misguided political considerations.

Chris Garrett, Oak Bay

Dick Beamish, Nanaimo

Tom Pedersen, Central Saanich