Sewage treatment, and how that may play out for Capital Region taxpayers, has been a hot topic since the province ordered a halt to flushing screened sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Almost forgotten in the discussion of the construction and operation of a wastewater treatment plant in Esquimalt is the fact the region’s underground infrastructure must be able to effectively and efficiently feed the new facility.
So where is Greater Victoria in terms of the quality and reliability of its pipes?
Overall, in fairly good position, says Malcolm Cowley, the Capital Regional District’s manager for conveyance infrastructure, seconded to the core area wastewater treatment project.
“Where the infrastructure is newer, the cost per household is going to be a lot lower,” he said, adding the further away from the downtown core one gets, the less ancient the sewage system.
In general, pipes in Victoria, Oak Bay and to a certain degree, Esquimalt, are the oldest – some remaining vitrified clay sections are 100 years old or more.
The three municipalities, home to roughly 40 per cent of the population to be served by the new treatment plant, have been forced to look at long-term plans to improve their systems, Cowley says.
Victoria has created a 15-year plan to reduce the incidence of “inflow and infiltration,” or I and I – the former being the seepage of sewer flow into the stormwater pipes, the latter the seeping of groundwater into the sewage pipes. The city is working to replace the worst sections first, using video inspection and smoke testing to flush out faulty pipes.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape and moving forward,” said Dwayne Kalanchuk, director of engineering and public works for the City of Victoria. “Both our water and sewer networks are from the turn of the (last) century and they’re starting to show their age. But we’re trying to invest to get the system repaired.”
City engineers have a pretty good sense of the condition of the underground network, he said.
Esquimalt, like Victoria, has done a lot of work over the past five years to reline much of its sewage infrastructure.
“They still have work to do, but they’ve come a long ways,” Cowley said of the township.
Oak Bay is trying to deal with its most outstanding underground issue, combined storm/sewer lines in the Uplands. As Oak Bay Coun. John Herbert says, the problem of sewage burbling to street level happens rarely, only during extremely heavy rain, but should be dealt with before the treatment plant comes on stream.
Much of Saanich’s infrastructure is about 40 years old and is still in good shape, said Cowley.
On the West Shore, the systems are in the 20- to 30-year range, with newer materials used.
“Their issue is just growth, as opposed to replacing existing infrastructure,” he said. “They need to keep maintaining what they’ve got.”
Langford alone grew by about 7,000 residents between 2006 and 2012, or roughly 30 per cent. Expansion there, along with Colwood and View Royal, represented more than half of the entire region’s population growth.
People are girding for property tax increases in advance of construction of the $782-million treatment plant. While increases vary between jurisdictions, taxpayers shouldn’t expect any huge jumps in their bill related to improving sewage infrastructure.