BC Government thwarts years of effort to force CRD to upgrade sewage facilities

Media Release: April 21, 2005

VICTORIA, BC – Documents recently obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show that the current BC Government was pressured by the Capital Regional District (CRD) to approve Victoria’s lackluster 25 year Core Area Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP) in 2003 and that the province knowingly ignored a 1993 agreement with Washington State to upgrade sewage treatment standards for Victoria.

The documents show that CRD staff pressured the province repeatedly into approving the LWMP despite the fact that the plan did not contain any provisions, plans or schedules for improving sewage treatment works. Past provincial governments all repeatedly and persistently demanded that the CRD upgrade its two main sewage plants at Clover and Macaulay Point. The documents also show that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) wanted nothing to do with the LWMP if treatment was not in the plan. DFO’s then Regional Director General John Davis wouldn’t even commit DFO to further studies if treatment was not on the table.

In March of 2003 Joyce Murray, then BC Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, was briefed on a 1993 BC-Washington State agreement that committed Victoria to sewage treatment by 2008, yet, despite knowing this, she still approved the LWMP, a plan that has effectively put off any commitment for sewage treatment in Victoria for the foreseeable future. In approving the plan, the Province also ignored Federal laws, Federal agencies and local support for treatment. The documents obtained clearly show that the majority of people (58%) in the CRD support a move towards advanced sewage treatment.

In 1993, boycotts against Victoria’s tourism sector originating from Washington State had just started when a deal between then Premier Mike Harcourt and then Washington State governor Mike Lowry was struck. This deal averted further boycotts but not before major conferences and hotel bookings were cancelled in Victoria. In the deal, Harcourt promised Lowry that Victoria would have primary sewage treatment in place by 2002 and secondary treatment between 2008 and 2013. Victoria, through the Capital Regional District (CRD) Chair, also committed to this timeframe for installing secondary treatment.

“ British Columbia’s international reputation is badly tarnished with this news,” says Jim McIsaac of the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. “The province must find the courage to defend its own laws and agreements, refuse to accept any further delays from the CRD and insist they move ahead with treatment immediately.”

“It shows a shocking lack of leadership on the province’s part that they gave in to the CRD, and completely ignored the public, the business community, Federal agencies and past commitments and promises to our neighbors south of the border in approving this LWMP,” says Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “In 1993, we avoided a hit to Victoria’s economy by agreeing that we would begin to treat our sewage within 15 years. We can’t continue to risk our region’s economy.”

“As shown in our recent National Sewage Report Card, by 2007 Victoria will be the only major city in Canada, and perhaps North America, that will still be discharging virtually all of their sewage to the environment raw and untreated,” says John Werring, Sierra Legal Staff Scientist. “The fact that our Provincial government continues to condone this despite this past promise to Washington State to change things is outrageous.”

The CRD pumps over 120 million litres a day of raw sewage into local waters and the prevailing current at the outfall takes the sewage east into Haro Strait. Prior to installing a 6mm screen, Victoria’s raw sewage and its larger contents regularly hit the beaches on the US San Juan Islands. Victoria’s effluent is also acutely toxic to fish. Tests under the Federal Fisheries Act show that fish survive only 20 minutes in Victoria’s effluent compared to over 96 hours in pulp mill effluent (Sierra Legal).