More on the Victoria Sewage Debate – Comment on Times Colonist

The propaganda campaign continues from the people in Victoria that want to stop the idea of doing better sewage treatment. For those not current on this problem, Victoria is the only major metropolitan area in the entire Salish Sea that is not treating their sewage, but dumping approx. 82 Million liters of raw sewage a day, into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There have been numerous letters from noted scientists, politicians, citizen activists, and average people, demanding a change to this and the building of a sewage treatment plant. This has been going on for decades, as the problem worsens.

Today, the Times Colonist, published a letter from a former District Medical Health Officer (89-95), Dr. Shaun Peck, who claimed “many studies have shown that this practice has minimal impact on the marine environment and the plume cannot be detected 400 meters (1312 feet) from the end of the outfalls).”

A quick search of Youtube comes up with a video made by a diver, showing the accumulated sewage sediment on the seabed and marine life 5 kms (16000 feet) away from the McCauley Point outflow.  It hardly looks like healthy normal marine sediment you would expect in areas not near an outfall.  The diver has over 35 years of experience diving this area, as he discusses in the narrative. While not a scientific sampling, the narrative history, along with the science that has been discussed by numerous PhD level scientist who have come out in agreement with a new treatment plant, points to an ongoing history, told by numbers and by visual evidence of those who have dived the area, make a story that is hard to ignore.

Additionally, many samples checking for coliform bacteria up to 10 kms from the outfalls are showing numbers vastly higher than safe levels.

The YouTube Video by diver James Skwarok

Additionally, let’s review more facts of today, not 1991 (which Dr. Peck relies on).

  • Environment Canada has closed 60 square kilometers around the outfalls to all shellfish harvest;
  • The plume from the outfalls hits the water surface under various conditions, which raises concerns for humans who are engaging in primary contact recreation in these areas (wind and kite surfers)
  • Toxicity tests show that Victoria’s sewage is toxic to rainbow trout fry, water fleas, blue mussel larvae, and oyster larvae;
  • Nineteen chemicals found in the sewage are  found on the seafloor and exceed  the Contaminated Sites Regulation. For any one exceedances a site is considered to be sufficiently contaminated to be designated as a contaminated site;
  • Twenty-eight chemicals found in Victoria’s sewage are in concentrations that exceed water quality guidelines for the protection of fish and aquatic life, some exceed the guidelines by nearly 85 times;
  • Toxicity tests at Macaulay Point outfall indicated exposure to sediments from this location resulted in significantly reduced survival or growth of polychaete worms and survival and normal development of blue mussel larvae; and
  • No studies have been conducted in the vicinity of the two outfalls to evaluate the effects of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on aquatic organisms or aquatic-dependent wildlife.
  • (all from

And to clarify for Dr. Peck, as it is  stated at the   Victoria Sewage Alliance web site, “dilution does not get rid of what’s in sewage (organics, pathogens like hepatitis, heavy metals or chemicals) ”

Dr. Peck refers to a book from 1991 called the “Victoria’s Sewage Circus” as some kind of scientific treatise on the subject, ‘providing evidence of the …effectiveness” of the system, but the book, which is available on the Internet for free today, is a lightly written attack on anyone claiming to believe that the then current system of outfall is not adequate. It uses a lot of science that goes back many decades previous to the 1991 publishing of the book, and using this as some kind of reference guide, is using seriously outdated and non specific data. For example, there are no actual pointers to specific scientific peer review capable literature in the book, and there is no bibliography or source reference listing to find the original science that the author is referring to. Much of the book reads not much different than a generalist wanting to convince the unconvinced, rather than putting real scientific data on the specifics of the Victoria outfalls in front of the reader. It adds nothing new to the debate. The book can be found here: 

Dr. Peck goes on to claim,” We do not have industrial runoff such as that which occurs from the Duwamish Canal and other sources in Puget Sound.” again without referring to any study or the particular runoff  that would prove that  claim. To be clear, Victoria most definitely has industrial runoff, if nothing else waste from dry cleaners, that may use PERC in their facilities, for example.  It may not have a Boeing plant, or some such industry particular to Seattle, but the Dr. needs to clarify what chemicals that Seattle has flowing into the Dumawish today, not 50 years ago, that Victoria doesn’t have.

So when you read things like Dr. Peck or run into friends in Victoria that don’t support the building of the sewage treatment plant (yes, I’ve met young people who claim to be very environmentally aware and who think that the current situation is just fine), please point them to facts that can help them understand the problem, and why people like Dr. Peck, for reasons that are really not clear, joins a contingent that is still in denial about something that many other scientists have clarified. This deflecting  of Victoria’s lack of sewage treatment by saying that those of us in Washington State have not solved the problem any better, quoting from  People For Puget Sound (of which I was a board member for a number of years) to prove a case that is not even being made (the issue being debated  isn’t comparing Duwamish industrial  water run off with Victoria sewage) is pure propaganda. We in Washington state recognize the problems and are working on solving them, even when they likely include having to fix Victoria’s fecal coliform and heavy metals, etc. issues that end up in our waters. It’s time we stop pretending that what comes out Victoria’s outflows somehow doesn’t effect us here. For one thing, the fish that pass through that sewage don’t just stay there. We likely eat them. So we should be celebrated for taking on the hard work, instead of ridiculed.

If any of you need more convincing that Dr. Peck is either purposely or not, feeding the propaganda machine for not spending the money to build a better treatment system, and allowing Victoria to join the rest of the cities around the Salish Sea that have recognized the threat of untreated sewage in total to the health of the Sea, then I direct you to the numerous letters of support, along with more facts and studies, at the web site run by the Victoria Sewage Alliance,

The article in the Times Colonist by Dr. Peck is here.

10 Responses

  1. Victoria’s long-delayed sewage treatment plans have become an international irritant, with Washington State demanding the B.C. Washington Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark demanding she order local Victoria-area governments to step in after more than 20 years of debates and promises about treating the region’s sewage.

  2. I understand your frustration.
    In Canada, there are 4 main political parties: The Tories/Conservatives, they used to be Progressive Conservatives in that they supported National Healthcare and social services, then Harper & Co took over; The Liberals, who are in the middle and can be left or right of centre depending on the issue and the political gain (they often vote w/the Conservatives); the NDP or National Democratic Party, if Bernie Sanders lived here he’d be w/them; and the Green Party.
    In BC, the Liberals are actually not Liberal at all, they are really Conservative.
    Christy Clark is a slightly smarter and more clever version of Sarah Palin. So to expect anything good from her will be disappointing to say the least.
    Clark’s main interest is promoting LNG, and she’s trying to create a partnership w/the stupendously corrupt Malaysian govt, in addition to supporting fracking she of course is also for the tar sands, pipelines, more tanker traffic, the Site C Dam, while cutting funding to public schools, health care, etc.
    Mayors in Canada don’t affiliate themselves with a political party, they run as individuals, but imo Mayor Helps is w/the Greens.
    When I moved here from Toronto 12 yrs ago, I was also surprised and shocked about the sewage issue. I’ve been following this for 12 yrs, and I can tell you the current Mayor and City Council are the best chance for this finally being built and implemented. Mayor Helps lives in Fernwood, a neighbourhood with urban organic farms, co-housing, and all kinds of other progressive and useful initiatives and actions which are forward-thinking and a great example of how a neighbourhood can come together and do great things.

  3. Washington Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark demanding she order local Victoria-area governments to step in after more than 20 years of debates and promises about treating the region’s sewage. It is now more than 20 years since your province agreed to implement wastewater treatment in greater Victoria, and yet today Victoria still lacks any treatment beyond screening,” Gov.

  4. I never want to visit Hanford, Washington, the most radioactively polluted and toxic site in the USA, but how does that help anything? The only thing keeping us from crossing border is our low dollar. The new Mayor of Victoria is very different from previous ones, who were as I tried to explain in my previous comment, politlcal hacks surrounded by yes-sayers and bureacrats trying to justify their bloated salaries, benefits and pensions. She and the other mayors and city council folks who were arguing for a state of the art, European style sewage system are now in a position to implement this, and they are working very hard to accomplish this as quickly as humanly possible. Most of the pollution in Puget Sound is not from here, it’s from the US Navy and heavy industry and shipping and runoff. And the planned US Naval war games will have an enormous detrimental affect on land and sea wildlife on our side of the Strait as well. So let’s keep things in perspective. The entire planet is becoming polluted to an extreme that we are IMO well past the “tipping point”. Pointing fingers in this way won’t help. Electing people like Mayor Helps, who really cares and is actually trying to do good things, will. I doubt Pres Trump will care about this, unless something with his name on it is going to be built here. If you are an engineer or biologist with knowledge of new tech for sewage treament, please share it!

    • Helen, this is not a tit for tat situation. Hanford is in the process of cleanup, we, the taxpayers of the US, have spent billions of dollars actually cleaning it up for decades, rather than saying its fine and ignoring it, as Victoria has continued to do for decades. I’m glad that Lisa Helms appears to be working for a solution.

      Neither you nor anyone else really knows what “most” of the pollution is in the Salish Sea, as it’s hard to know the source when it’s in the sea, but “most” scientists I’ve talked to point to runoff from roads and other hard surfaces through stormwater as the current major source. Victoria is identical to all of us in that sense. But you cannot simply wish away the problem I document in my article. Victoria is decades behind other metropolitan areas of similar and larger size. It’s time to get with the program and stop dumping raw sewage into the Salish Sea!

      As to a possible “Pres Trump”, that is just a theoretical which is highly unlikely to happen. You actually have the person in power now that Trump would likely be like, in Steven Harper. He has decimated environmental protection under his reign, and his token donation of funds to give back to the environment he put forward last week in BC is simply to get votes. His record speaks for itself. And the landscape of Canada will never be the same, along with the environment.

      • I’m sorry this has gotten out of hand…I actually wish Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party USA or Sen Bernie Sanders become the next Pres…yes we are fighting to rid ourselves of Canada’s Republicans/Tea Party, PM Harper and his party…it’s my understanding within the last yr several workers at Hanford were exposed to radiation and became quite ill and/or died, there was an accident which went unreported for several days…if someone doesn’t want to visit Victoria ok but to use the sewage issue as the reason is imo immature…Mayor Helps deserves all the support she can get incl from our Wash State neighbours; the more support/help she gets the quicker the treatment plant will be built and up and running…I have written several published articles and letters supporting your fight against the Growlers and the EMF wargames on the Olympic Peninsula, MP and Green party Leader Elizabeth May wrote a letter to the US Ambassador about this several months ago…we all live on planet earth, there are no borders from space…

  5. Victoria, such a beautiful city with such an ugly underlining. So sad. Makes us think twice about revisiting that area of Canada.

  6. I forgot to mention the radiation from Fukushima–how to you filter that? Both Canada and US govts behaving as if nothing happened. Citizen scientists around Vancouver Island, along the Pacific, the Strait and Salish Sea are continually testing water samples, they are working with Woodshole in Massachusetts and the David Suzuki Foundation…why do you think whales, starfish, etc are dying? PCBs etc are just one part of this. Hopefully we will get rid of PM Harper and all of these things will be addressed soon.

  7. Hi, thank you for this great article and info. As a former resident of Victoria (we now live near Jordan River west of Sooke) I agree with everything in this article. To explain, not excuse: the previous mayor was a useless tool who failed to accomplish anything he promised.
    The new mayor is actually pretty great, and is a community activist and is trying to solve homelessness, help low income folks, protect (organic) farmland, etc. What happened is the bureaucrats took over the planning process, and chose a system which was terrible.
    They then hired another bureacrat from Toronto, who has now been let go, costing taxpayers loads of $ in severance pay etc.
    All along the people in favour of seweage treatment were trying to get the European model approved, which is already being implemented in the Dockside Green housing development, which has the highest LEED standard.
    They reuse gray water and sewage is recycled right on site.
    All kinds of scientists and engineers have proposed actual feasible plans which provide sewage treatment within neighbourhoods.
    The PTB wouldn’t listen to them.
    Now, Lisa Helps, the new mayor, is listening.
    Everything is now starting fresh and Victoria will end up with state of the art, less expensive sewage treatments.
    As for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, personal care products found in it, every town and city around the world with people who use these have the same problem, how do you remove these? And how do you get people to stop using them?
    I have multiple chemical sensitivity and cannot be around petrochemicals. If I feel unwell I use homeopathic/naturopathic meds. We only use organic biodegrable soap (Dr. Brommer) and detergent, vinegar and baking soda. The aisles in supermarkets around the world are filled with products made by Procter and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Dow Chemical, etc. Febreze, Tide, all poisons.
    There are filters but they are expensive and have to be changed frequently.
    At least we don’t have fluoride in our water, whereas more than half of city water systems around the US is contaminated with fluoride added to it, a neurotoxin which does not prevent cavities, and causes thyroid and kidney disease.
    Mayor Helps said yesterday she has been giving updates all the time to officials in Wash State. Instead of complaining, why not help/support her? If you have info about state of the art sewage systems, share them with her/us.

    • Helen, I’m glad that Mayor Helps is working towards a solution. The article I mentioned is not saying nothing is moving towards a solution, but that the author of that particular article is off base on his assessments, and having been published in a major BC newspaper, can give the impression to many people that Helps is misguided. That’s why I wrote my piece.

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