Submission to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) Waste Management Committee in the matter of the GVRD’s Liquid Waste Management Plan

May 30, 2006

Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) is a charitable, non-profit society formed to protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of Georgia Strait, its adjoining waters and communities. The goals of GSA are to:

  1. Protect biodiversity and wildlife habitat;
  2. Restore the region’s water and air quality;
  3. Promote the social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability of the region’s communities;
  4. Foster understanding and stewardship of the marine environment; and
  5. Raise awareness of the links between the health of ecosystems and human communities.

GSA is active on a range of educational and advocacy efforts aimed at safeguarding the marine environment and the health of the human and non-human inhabitants that make this remarkable inland sea their home. Our programs include intertidal stewardship and monitoring; encouragement of reduced use of toxic household products; promotion of green boating and best practices in marine industries; Marine Protected Areas; improved sewage treatment, and reduction of pollution and habitat impacts from salmon farms. We promote science, collaboration and common sense as tools in the pursuit of sustainability. We also recognize that “sustainability” must encompass not only a healthy environment, but also social factors such as human health and a healthy economy. GSA is made up of over 50 member groups and 1000s of individuals around the region. Our organizational members include environmental, recreational, labour, and community groups, sport and commercial fishing organizations, small businesses, marine industry organizations and many others that together comprise well over 100,000 people

GVRD Liquid Waste Management Plan

Source Control Municipal wastewater is the largest source of pollution, by volume, discharged to surface water bodies in Canada (1). There are two fundamentally important points in this statement: one is that sewage discharged into the environment is pollution; the other is that the size of the potential negative impact on the environment is quite large. Both Greater Victoria and Greater Vancouver remain the two largest sources of raw or minimally treated sewage on the BC coast (2). Therefore, it is critical that efforts be made to ensure that the effluent discharged will not harm the receiving environment. One part of addressing this source of pollution, it to minimize the broad range of chemicals we use daily that end up in our sewage. Since 1998, GSA has used itsToxicSmart program to demonstrate how easy it is for our communities to reduce the use of chemicals in their homes, gardens and workshops. This very popular and effective region wide program has now been expanded to include workshops in the Lower Mainland’s South Asian community (with one of our guides now available in Punjabi). GSA is also partnering with the GVRD on its “Use less. Save more” campaign to encourage residents on the North Shore to reduce their use of laundry soap. These types of education campaigns must continue as they have proven to be effective in reducing the amount of toxins that make their way into our environment.

Our historical involvement in source control education underscores our understanding and support for their effectiveness. However, there are two aspects of source control that must be made clear:

  • Source control must include enforceable codes of practice for business and industry
  • Source control education for GVRD residents is important and effective and we encourage the region to continue expanding this program. However, harmful chemicals are also making their way into our marine environment from industry and business. Businesses such as restaurants, parking lots, dry cleaners and carpet cleaners, to name a few, use harmful chemicals every day, and their disposal must not be left to voluntary programs.
    • We therefore ask the GVRD to develop a wide range of codes of practice for key industries and businesses in our region. Enforceable codes of practices are feasible, and if proper monitoring and enforcement is in place, it can be very effective. Codes of practices are currently in place in communities such as Seattle and Victoria.
  • Source control is not sewage treatment
  • Source control education is by its nature voluntary, and therefore can never be a complete substitute for the highest possible level of sewage treatment. We can encourage individuals to recycle paint and to use less chemicals in their homes, but in the end, the final decision to comply or not is up to the consumer. Therefore all harmful chemicals will never be eliminated from the effluent stream, as it is impossible to get 100% of the population to comply.
  • Source control’s impact on reducing the chemicals in sewage is limited by the fact that a growing number of the chemicals that make their way into the effluent are not controllable. These include PCBs, as well as pharmaceuticals.
    • Pharmaceuticals: Source control can be effective in preventing unused pharmaceuticals from entering wastewater, however source control cannot remove excreted pharmaceuticals from wastewater. The ability of sewage treatment systems to remove pharmaceuticals is low, but not insignificant. Studies to date have looked at pharmaceutical impacts from discharge after a sewage treatment system(3). Further research is needed, but sewage treatment is the most effective tool we have to remove pharmaceuticals from the waste stream.
  • In a 2000 communication with the Capital Regional District of Victoria, Environment Canada stated that “Treatment’s not only more effective in reducing contaminants, it is effective immediately upon implementation and will remove a wide array of contaminants not targeted under source control”(4).

Therefore, source control must be part of a broader approach to dealing with our sewage, as we ask the GVRD not to limit its approach but broaden it to include a minimum of secondary sewage treatment for all its plants.

Sewage treatment

Key points regarding secondary sewage treatment:

  • It removes 99% of PCBs (5) and 90% of endocrine disrupting chemicals (6) from the effluent.
  • It is the minimum standard in both the United States and the European Union. The current standards in the GVRD, where the two largest treatment plants are only treating at the primary level, places this region far behind a large percentage of the Western world.

Therefore, the GVRD must not only rely on source control for improvements to sewage treatment, but must also commit to upgrading Iona and Lions Gate to secondary treatment levels today – not in 15 to 20 years. The GVRD must also hasten the replacement of CSOs (combined sewer overflows) and other sources of raw sewage entering our environment.

Resource Recovery Treatment Technologies

With the majority of the world coming to this region in less than 4 years for the Olympics, our current approach to environmental protection from municipal sewage will be under the microscope and will be difficult to defend. We recognize that upgrades to traditional sewage treatment plants are not inexpensive, however, today we have an opportunity to not only upgrade our treatment levels, but also showcase Greater Vancouver to the world as a sustainable region through the use of new treatment technologies that include resource recovery.

  • New technologies make advanced sewage treatment cost effective
  • Sewage treatment plants designed for resource recovery are less expensive to build and operate (more compact, require less electricity and chemicals) than traditional plants (7)
  • European municipalities are showing how green energy can be derived from several waste streams at the same time, and how waste-to-energy infrastructure can effectively treat sewage and also reduce inner-city air pollution and greenhouse gases. Countries like Sweden are dealing with sewage and municipal solid waste in concert, so that energy recovery plants convert organic materials from garbage, offal from abattoirs, and sludge from sewage plants in single processes. For example:
    • There are 3,000 biogas plants in Europe, producing methane from sewage treatment plants and from organic municipal waste (5) (9)
    • Sweden runs 5,300 vehicles and much of its transit system on biogas 4(10).
    • Sweden is enacting environmental legislation which will require that 60% of phosphates be recovered from municipal sewage 4
  • Examples of resource recovery technology can also be found close to home. The Dockside Green Development in Victoria will have an onsite sewage system, while another project in Vancouver at False Creek is planning to have a neighbourhood treatment system which will recover energy from heat.

We have the opportunity to start treating sewage as a resource, not waste. By taking this approach, the reasons being given to delay upgrades to Iona and Lions Gate treatment plants – including cost and land – are no longer viable. As resource recovery technologies have a much smaller land footprint and can earn money through resources such as biodiesel, we can minimize our negative impact on the environment in a cost effective way.

  • Public opinion is shifting on the issue of sewage treatment
  • The public attitude towards sewage treatment is changing. There is growing unease with the idea of discharging raw or undertreated sewage into the ocean. The public is concerned about their health and the health of the 63 marine species that are known to be at risk in this region (11). They recognize that the ocean is not a large dumping ground to be filled at our convenience. An example of this shift in attitude can be found in Victoria, where in 1992, the majority voted against having sewage treatment. A 2004 Ipsos Reid survey, commissioned by the Capital Regional District, now shows that 75% of residents find the current practices unacceptable. Though we are unaware of any recent surveys amongst GVRD residents, if provided with the information about the treatment levels at Iona and Lions Gate, along with the discharges through the region’s CSO’s, it is likely that the same attitudes would be reflected here.

We therefore ask that the GVRD Waste Management Committee:

  1. Expand its source control program to include enforceable codes of practice for businesses and industry.
  2. Investigate new technologies for sewage treatment that could assist in upgrading Iona and Lions Gate treatment plants to a secondary level ahead of the current timeline describe in the Liquid Waste Management Plan.


Christianne Wilhelmson Program Coordinator, Vancouver

(1) The State of Municipal Wastewater Effluents in Canada, Environment Canada, 2001

(2) The National Sewage Report Card, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, September 2004, p.2.

(3) Pharmaceutical Abstracts Risk to Ecosystem, Removal with Water & Sewage Treatment, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

(4) BC Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection Decision Note to the Minister, Issue: CRD LWMP for core municipalities, February 20, 2002.

(5) Bertold, S and Stock, P. 1999. GVS&DD Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant 1997 Monitoring Program: Wastewater Chemistry – Data evaluation. Final Report. Greater Vancouver Regional District, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby BC.

(6) Technical Brief: Endocrine Disrupting Compounds and Implications for Wastewater Treatment 2005, Water Environment Research Foundation

(11) Brown and Graydos. 2005. Species of Concern within the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Marine Ecosystem: changes from 2002 to 2004. Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference. Seattle.