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article imageVictoria B.C. to stop dumping untreated sewage

By Bob Ewing     Jun 12, 2009 in Environment
The British Columbia capital of Victoria has dumped, for years, tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage every day into the waters separating Washington state and Vancouver Island.
This situation is scheduled to change as last week regional politicians approved a $1.2 billion plan to build four treatment plants to handle about 34 million gallons of raw sewage that Victoria and six suburbs pump into the Strait of Juan de Fuca each day.
"Victoria's reputation has been tarnished by our sewage treatment," said Dean Fortin, who became Victoria's mayor last fall. "This is our opportunity to move forward."
There are concerns the untreated sewage contains toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other contaminants that pollute waters and harm aquatic life.
Others disagree and claim the risks are minimal and that the costs of waste treatment far exceed the benefits.
In 2006, the British Columbia government ordered the Victoria area to develop a sewage treatment plan after an independent report commissioned by the area's municipalities concluded that relying on water dilution and tidal currents was "not a long-term answer to waste disposal."
A report was released that found contamination of the seabed at outfalls, where the sewer pipes drain.
"Since then, it's been, 'How do we move ahead?"' said Andy Orr, a spokesman for Capital Regional District, the government for 13 municipalities on the southern end of Vancouver Island.
The capital district's sewage committee voted to build four plants in Esquimalt, Saanich East, the West Shore and Clover Point, Victoria and the province has ordered the plants to be online by 2016.
Not everyone is convinced the plants will help.
"There's no measurable public health risks," said Dr. Shaun Peck, a former CRD medical health officer and member of Responsible Sewage Treatment Victoria, citing monitoring studies of the sites.
Some environmentalists feel that taking a stand now is important.
"We're slowly, along with other pressures, changing what's happening in our environment," said Christianne Wilhelmson, with the Georgia Strait Alliance, which has pushed for sewage treatment for years.
"Once you cross that line, it's going to be too late."
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