In 2007, the News had a discussion with a broad-based, highly placed group of scientists from the University of Victoria.
Focused only partly on the price tag of the Capital Regional District’s proposed sewage treatment system, they said the net benefit to the local marine environment of pumping treated sewage into the ocean, rather than screened raw sewage, would be minimal. Other more pressing problems, such as the loss of marine habitat due to development and the impact of invasive, non-native species – not to mention the effect of polluted stormwater – should take financial precedence, they said.
We believed them then and still find their arguments, and those of anti-treatment group ARREST, led by ex-Colwood mayor John Bergbusch and former medical health officer Dr. Shaun Peck, compelling.
While the CRD held open houses outlining a range of strategies for heeding the provincial mandate to treat the region’s sewage, there was virtually no public consultation around the actual decision to treat or not treat our effluent.
That is problematic. But with federal regulations stipulating wastewater treatment now in place, an extra set of regulatory eyes are watching how the CRD proceeds on this matter.
If, as former Victoria MP and environment minister David Anderson implied Monday at an ARESST press conference at Clover Point, the opportunity remains for the region to lobby for an exemption to the federal rules, based on a lack of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of secondary treatment, that needs to be determined as quickly as possible.
But for the feds to make a funding announcement for the CRD project in the high-profile manner seen last week, it’s clear they’ve made up their mind on this issue.
The Stephen Harper Conservatives are not in the habit of leaving much to chance when it comes to their public image. Pulling an about-face now, especially after coming out with new federal regulations so soon afterward, would make them look pretty foolish.
The role of the treatment opponents should now shift to keeping the CRD’s feet to the fire and ensuring hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money are spent wisely.