Lee Tucker

Living on top of a sewage treatment plant

On a sunny spring afternoon, the patio at Caffe Fantastico in Dockside Green is packed with patrons sipping on their favourite beverages.

On a sunny spring afternoon, the patio at Caffe Fantastico in Dockside Green is packed with patrons sipping on their favourite beverages.

Among those patrons is Ian and his wife, who drive from their View Royal home three to four times a week to enjoy a cup of their favourite coffee while soaking up views of the Gorge Waterway.

Depending where he sits on the patio, Ian sometimes notices a bit of an odd smell wafting through the air. That’s because the patio and much of the condo development is built on top of its own wastewater treatment plant.

Ian, who did not want to publish his last name, is well aware the sewage plant is there every time he goes to the cafe, but his wife doesn’t give it a second thought.

“It’s a good idea that we can leave less of a footprint,” said Ian about the sewage plant. “But if you have one built that’s 1,000 times bigger than this, it’s going to smell.”

Completed in 2008 at a cost of approximately $5 million, the wastewater treatment facility at Dockside Green is built 33 feet below the ground and uses a tertiary treatment process for all sewage and gray water generated by residents and commercial tenants. It’s the first of its kind in North America.

The sewage goes through biological processes to break down complex materials. Anything bigger than two millimetres gets screened and dumped into 45 gallon drums that typically take 10 days to fill. Leftover sludge is sent to a compost facility in Chemainus that mixes 25 per cent human waste and 75 per cent organic waste.

The residual reclaimed water from the Dockside facility is reused on site for landscape irrigation, toilet flushing and cycling through the development’s ponds and stream.

At the moment, 55,000 litres of water are treated, but the facility is designed to handle up to 360,000 litres.

Rated as a class four facility — the highest rating in B.C. — the plant currently serves 300 units. Once the development reaches full build out, 1,500 units will be on board.

Lee Tucker, the facility’s senior utilities operator, believes most people aren’t aware it’s even there.

“People sit in the coffee shop and bakery and they don’t realize they are sitting on top of a wastewater treatment plant.”

“It’s one of those things people don’t want in their backyard, but people don’t really realize they have one in their backyard,” said Tucker, noting there is a slight odour that smells like ozone due to an ultraviolet air handling system.

“You can’t get rid of odours from treatment plants. That’s the mantra of the thing, but you can treat the odours…This is not a foul odour, it’s just an odour.”

Tucker doesn’t hesitate to drink the treated water, noting it’s exceptionally clean due to the membrane system used during the process. The facility is a selling feature for many environmentally-conscious residents, he said, and the Capital Regional District (CRD) could learn a few things as it develops its own sewage treatment plan.

Last month, the CRD selected McLoughlin or Macaulay Point in Esquimalt and Victoria’s Clover Point as the locations to explore building two secondary or tertiary sewage treatment plants. The cost is estimated around $1 billion.

A sewage treatment plant at Clover Point would be constructed underground so it’s out of sight like the pump station currently there now. However, approval is needed from both Victoria and Esquimalt councils in order to move the massive infrastructure project forward.

Even though federal regulations make it mandatory Victoria moves toward at least secondary treatment by 2020 or face enforcement, many residents still question the need for a sewage treatment plant and where it should be constructed.

For the last nine years, Marcel Potvin has lived in Esquimalt not far from McLoughlin Point. Despite new technologies that address odours and modernize the look of sewage treatment plants that have been constructed in the heart of other cities, he fears there will still be a smell if a plant is constructed at McLoughlin, pushing his property value down.

“I’ve got such mixed feelings about the whole thing…it’s a heck of an expense to put something like that in to find out that yes, it does smell,” said Potvin. “When cruise ships, pleasure crafts and float pains come in, it’ll be welcome to Victoria, here’s our sewage treatment plant. I would prefer they would look at another site where it was away from everybody.”