Our View: Victoria braces for the big flush

When the province and federal governments fork over $500 million, most cities would celebrate the economic benefits

When the province and federal governments fork over $500 million, most cities would celebrate the economic benefits from a fresh influx of capital.

For Greater Victoria, the announcement Monday that Ottawa and the province will fund a two-thirds share of building a $783-million regional sewage treatment system felt more like a day of reckoning.

The region’s sewer system users – Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford – now have to figure out how to extract its share of cash from residents and councils, both which are loathe to increase property taxes.

Raising $281 million for the construction phase isn’t pocket change. That’s $200 to $500 per household each year until the McLoughlin wastewater treatment plant, a biosolids treatment plant and improvements to sewage infrastructure are complete. Operating costs are estimated at $14 million per year after that.

For Victoria residents, it will be interesting to see what the final price tag is for the Blue Bridge. For regional rapid transit, the E&N line is suddenly looking a lot more attractive.

After six years and $18 million spent in sewer treatment planning and studies, the region knew this day would come, but decisions on how to divide costs among sewered municipalities and how to raise those funds in the first place have remained on the backburner as a political hot potato nobody.

As dismal as it is to – finally – start paying a fat new tax to wring clean the city’s effluent, a few positives can be flushed out, beyond not flushing waste directly into the ocean.

The region has the opportunity from the get-go to employ technologies that extract heat (and therefore energy) from sewage, much like has been done in a number of European cities for decades.

Maximizing resource recovery should be a requirement of the tendering process and not an add-on when the system is done. Recouping costs and easing the taxpayer burden should be priority No. 1.

Sewage treatment, too, is an opportunity to overhaul aging sewer lines in Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich, some of which have been in service for more than 100 years. During heavy rains, these ancient pipes can overflow into stormwater lines (called inflow and infiltration) and flush into shallow coastal waters.

The region’s largest infrastructure project in its history has arrived. Start saving your pennies.