British Columbia

Sewage controversy in Greater Victoria finally circled the drain in 2016

In the Capital regional District, a foul debate finally — hopefully — came to a conclusion in 2016.

Infighting between local mayors prevented action for years

The long-running debate over sewage treatment in Greater Victoria inspired one citizen to dress up in a costume of questionable taste at local protests. (Mr. Floatie/Facebook)

It took residents, politicians and even Americans living across the Juan de Fuca Strait raising a stink, but 2016 was the year the Greater Victoria region finally settled on a plan to stop dumping raw sewage into the ocean.

The debate over how to treat the Capital Regional District's sewage dragged on for years, but the promise of federal dollars for a new plant brought a new sense of urgency to discussions.

Several proposals were put forward only to be rejected before a single site in Esquimalt was settled on by CRD mayors.

Sewage said to be changing ecosystem

B.C. is the Canadian province which dumps the most untreated sewage into rivers and oceans.

In 2015, 82.3 billion litres were dumped province-wide. Sewage dumped into the Juan de Fuca Strait from places like the CRD accounted for 24.8 billion litres of that total.

Residents said the practice was having an effect on the ecosystem.

Diver and commercial fisher Allan Crow said areas near the sewage discharge pipes are full of sick kelp, polluted scallops and layers of thick sediment — which he has filmed and documented.

He said the decades of dumping have created changes in the ocean, including dead zones, over the last 10 years.

He and his group, the Victoria Sewage Treatment Alliance, spent years advocating for treatment, and they weren't alone.

Washington State residents have long been frustrated with the practise, and in 2015, the Seattle Times published an editorial calling for a boycott of tourism to the city.

McLoughlin rejected ... then accepted

Getting a municipality to agree to provide a location for a sewage plant was a challenge.

McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt was proposed in 2014, but council refused to zone for the plant. Five other proposals, including multi-site schemes, had failed since then.

But CRD mayors kept coming back to McLoughlin Point.

Other mayors in the region complained about the costs and the fact that not all municipalities were connected to sewers.

A provincially appointed board was enlisted to make sure a Sept. 30 deadline for federal funding was not missed. It proposed three locations for a site — including McLoughlin Point.

Local mayors, including Esquimalt's Barb Desjardins, agreed with the recommendation — despite earlier objections — just two weeks before the deadline.

The new plan included $20 million in amenities for Esquimalt, plus the site had a smaller footprint than the previous proposal and contained landscaping improvements.

The project's $765 million budget includes $253.4 million in federal funding and $248 million from the province.

Esquimalt city council needs to approve rezoning for the project at McLoughlin Point. Desjardins says while the rezoning is not a formality, the changes required are "minor."

Council has until Feb. 28 to finalize rezoning. The CRD faces a deadline of 2020 to provide secondary sewage treatment.

An artist's rendering of the sewage treatment plant coming to McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, B.C. (CRD)