Sewage Treatment: Fiction and Fact

Written by Harold McNeill on March 19th, 2017. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts

Capital Regional District

Collage (L to R): (T) From various web sources. Langford, Sidney, Victoria, Saanich, Highlands,
(C) Esquimalt, (Malahat), (CRD) Oak Bay, Metchosin,
(B) Colwood, Sooke, North Saanich, Central Saanich, View Royal

The reason for linking the following comments to the issues swirling around amalgamation is that dealing with sewage treatment is frequently pointed to as being one more reason amalgamation would save us from all manner of problem. Of course, that is not true, but there is no dissuading those who think amalgamation is the answer to every problem.  Previous posts on the topic of amalgamation are provided in the footer.    (This post opened to public on March 25, 2017).

March 16, 2017: The following comments were posted by Mr. Gilbert on an open Facebook page that deals with Local Government Issues in the Capital Regional District of Southern Vancouver Island. Link to the Original Post and Comments   Thanks Bryan for taking the time to provide further insight on this topic.

Bryan Gilbert:

Recently I listened to some friends talking about sewage treatment and I felt very sad to hear how uninformed they were. I don’t blame them because the media has been very one-sided on this issue. Here are ten common misunderstandings about sewage treatment with facts that are verifiable. If you can’t find the source then ask. I offer the following to inform and encourage people to check the back story before believing what we have been told:

Belief 1: Our CRD sewage project solves a major marine environmental problem.
Facts: If local marine scientists had control over 765 million dollars they would fix many other issues before doing sewage treatment.

Belief 2: Our beaches will be safe for swimming and we can harvest shellfish after sewage treatment.
Facts: Beach closures will continue until municipalities like Oak Bay fix their combined storm and sewage pipe systems. After every major rainfall raw, unfiltered sewage is discharged directly onto our beaches. Shellfish fisheries will remain closed until is this and storm water run off are fixed.

Belief 3: The CRD sewage treatment project is an environmental project.
Facts: No one has done any environmental cost-benefit analysis. Put another way. There is no evidence showing this project offers any quantifiable benefit that matches the huge cost. Also consider that the whole point of sewage treatment is to concentrate most of the harmful stuff on land. There is no firm long-term plan for what to do with this harmful stuff other than store it: in a toxic landfill. The Provincial Liberal government suggests we spread the harmful stuff across someone’s land.

Belief 4: The CRD sewage project is fully costed at $765 million.�Facts. This is a government run
Facts: This is a government run mega-project, but worse is the second half of the project hasn’t even been designed! (Just like the Johnson St Bridge project when it was started.) The $189 million allocated for residuals only stores them for some later process that is yet to be determined. To make matters worse we can not see any details about the project budget even though the CRD has already spent 10’s of millions above the stated total. Then on top of all this is the cost to borrow the money which easily add $400 million or more.

Belief 5: CRD sewage treatment will reclaim the water, like Dockside Green.
Facts: The treated effluent will not be safe for human contact: it must be discharged deep into the ocean. Even if someday we wanted to add more treatment we can’t because the site is too small. Even if we solve that problem any reclaimed water still needs to be piped across the harbour and uphill to consumers. This will always be more expensive compared to other sources. Bottom line: we will never reclaim the water.

Belief 6: The CRD sewage project is sized correctly to account for future needs.
Facts: In fact the project is oversized. CRD data shows that sewage flows are declining over the past 10 years; even as population grows. The project size has been fixed at 108 MLD even though we only need to treat 70 MLD. That’s 54% over capacity. Even if we need to add more capacity in the future we can add a module into the system at another location.

Belief 7: The CRD project is a good long term investment.
Facts: The treatment site is on the shore and will be subject to problems from sea level rise. There is no study for tsunami risk from the Devil’s Mountain fault line. There is no economic way to recover the heat in sewage. Plus see all the above. It is shameful we’ll spend a billion on this project as we face the challenges of global warming.

Belief 8: The federal government demands sewage must be treated by 2020.
Facts: The federal government says we must have a plan and work towards this plan in good faith. It doesn’t have to be done by 2020.

Belief 9: The CRD sewage treatment project is the most cost-effective way to treat sewage.
Facts: There is a lower cost way to treat the sewage and get real environmental benefits. A world leader in waste water technology advised the CRD on June 9, 2015 they had a 250 million dollar solution. No one has provided a single reason why the concepts behind the lower cost option is wrong. According to the CRD’s technical oversight panel this alternative approach is the way to go. This proposal reclaims water and heat. The proposal reduces our region’s greenhouse gasses in a significant way. And it saves $500 million for other priorities.

Previous Posts about Amalgamation

Amalgamation in Greater Victoria (February 2011)

Amalgamation: Questions and Answers (October 2014)

Amalgamation: A Search for the Truth (October 2014)

Local Communities: Keeping the Spirit Alive (November 2014)




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  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read your life account of Pibroch excellent.
    My family mowed to Pibroch in 1942 Dad was grain buyer for Searle Grain Company lived in town for 5 years than mowed one mile East to the farm on the corner of the road from Pibroch and Hwy 44. Bro Don still lives there.I went to school with both you and Louise.


    November 15, 2021 |

    These stories brought back some sweet memories for me. a wonderful trip down memory lane . the photos were great. It has made me miss those days.


    November 15, 2021 |

    Enjoyed your story Harold Dorothy Hartman