Letters to the editor

Focus Readers, July 2016

Washington’s phoney sewage war with Victoria 

With regards to David Broadland’s excellent article in Focus’ May/June edition, I’d like to add three salient points. 

First, diffusion involves the movement of chemicals in solution from regions of high concentrations to low concentrations. Broadland shows a table comparing relative releases of chemicals of concern in Puget Sound compared to Victoria. The manifold higher quantities of all noxious chemicals in Puget Sound compared to Victoria’s outfalls means that their diffusion rates will move the chemicals towards Victoria from Puget Sound, and not vice-versa. 

My second point is that water entering the Salish Sea from the many watersheds in the Gulf of Georgia and Puget Sound combine to a net movement of water out to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While daily tidal fluctuations contribute to changing rates of the flow seaward, the net effect is still the same—seawards. The physical effects of these two factors mean that little or no sewage effluent from Victoria enters Puget Sound. 

Lastly, the quantity and quality of chemicals of concern, with much more agricultural and industrial pollutants from Puget Sound, compared to much less from Victoria with its more benign residential wastewater, means that the real source of the problems in Puget Sound lie within its own community, not Victoria. 

It does seem strange indeed, that Victoria’s relatively small output, compared to the much higher outputs of the 77 sewage treatment plants in Washington’s part of the Salish Sea, should be a target for bullying by Washington politicians. 

Facts are stubborn things, and the scientific evidence is clear: Victoria has been made a scapegoat for the lack of Puget Sound politicians to adequately address their own major issues regarding the release of toxic chemicals into the waters of the Salish Sea.

Thor Henrich


Congratulations once again to Focus and David Broadland for stellar investigative reporting. “Washington’s phoney sewage war with Victoria” in your May/June issue is a revelation. Its implications are astounding. It appears that our provincial and federal governments have been duped by this phoney war into imposing additional sewage treatment on the Capital Regional District that is unnecessary and will be very expensive and environmentally deleterious (16,000 tonnes of GHGs produced during plant construction and a further 8000 tonnes each year thereafter).

In a letter to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in March, Representative Jeff Morris and 36 other Washington legislators boasted that their state had “forced” (their word) the BC government to, as your article states, “accept Washington’s position that Victoria’s treatment system is somehow affecting Puget Sound’s environmental health.” This erroneous contention is all the more galling given what you describe as “Washington’s dismal sewage treatment” and “Puget Sound’s deteriorating health.”

In 1992, BC premier Mike Harcourt and Washington governor Mike Lowry signed an Environmental Co-operation Agreement. The next year Harcourt promised, in an informal agreement, that secondary sewage treatment would be operational in Victoria between 2008 and 2013. The two leaders also appointed the BC-Washington Marine Science Panel, which was “charged with answering questions about the health and potential mixing of water, fish, and other organisms between the waters of Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia, from a scientific perspective.” In 1993, to add pressure, the Americans also organized a tourism boycott of Victoria because of its “neglectful approach to sewage treatment,” according to the Seattle Times.

The conclusion of the joint Marine Science Panel, according to its Chairperson Andrea Copping, an American residing in Washington state, was “that [Victoria’s] discharge was not likely to be harmful to the environment, nor detectable far from the discharge point off Victoria.” Moreover, land-based sewage treatment for Victoria wasn’t even mentioned in the panel’s recommendations and, according to its three Canadian members, still “remains very low on a shopping list that focuses on protecting the marine environment.”

These were not the findings BC and Washington state officials expected. “You guys didn’t give me the answer I wanted,” Harcourt told a Canadian member of the panel at the time (Oak Bay News). More recently, the former premier has described the panel’s conclusions as “bizarre” and “ambivalent.” In response, former federal environment minister David Anderson says, “Facts, and science, have been ignored by Mr Harcourt and his successors for the past 20 years, and ignored also by the CRD.” Meanwhile, “in 2006, with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics looming, then-governor Chris Gregoire applied acute political pressure,” (Seattle Times) that led, soon after, to the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell ordering the CRD to develop plans for land-based secondary sewage treatment. (Times Colonist, 2008).

Doubtless Representative Morris and his fellow legislators are familiar with the cry: “No taxation without representation!” With a new expert panel now in place to oversee sewage treatment plans for the CRD and expected to bring forward recommendations in September, my cry is, “No new sewage taxes without a compelling business case!”

Patrick Wolfe


I appreciate David Broadland’s vivid expose of certain political representatives’ opportunism posing as ecological concern. 

Our whole region (Vancouver, Victoria, Puget Sound communities) needs a “toxic abolition” policy. Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadians identifies the following key findings: 60 of the 88 chemicals tested were found in the 11 volunteers tested, including 18 heavy metals, 5 PBDEs, 14 PCBs, 1 perfluorinated chemical, 10 organochlorine pesticides, 5 organophosphate insecticide metabolites and 7 VOCs. On average, 44 chemicals were detected in each volunteer, including 41 carcinogens, 27 hormone disruptors, 21 respiratory toxins and 53 reproductive/developmental toxins.

The only way to end this is not with tertiary treatment but through powerful regulation called “carcinogen and toxic abolition,” based on the Precautionary Principle:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action, especially around the approval of new products and technologies (see www.sehn.org/wing.html).

The Living Downstream documentary is an evocative appeal for this. Watch the trailer at www.LivingDownstream.com/trailer. Watch the complete film free online with your Greater Victoria library card. 

The Capital Region still needs to recycle our topsoil, which is what urine and fecal matter represent. An advanced carbon neutral economy sends this back to farms as organic fertilizer, once it is guaranteed to be contaminant-free.

The cheapest and quickest way to retrieve effluent is detailed in the National Film Board’s Crapshoot: The Gamble With Our Wastes. Watch it free online at www.NFB.ca. 

Any other project is an engineer/pipe/cement and steel company slush fund that continues to enable industrial and pharmaceutical toxic contaminators.

Larry Wartels


So, to summarize events to date, the organic portion of the sewage being discharged into the Strait of Juan de Fuca is well and truly taken care of by the fast-moving currents, and spending a significant amount of money to build a secondary treatment facility is an utter waste of financial resources. There is ample evidence of this, as reported by numerous experts in the field. 

But what about the other parts of the effluent —the plastic, the pharmaceuticals, the heavy metals—that the currents do not break down, but instead redistribute into the greater ocean?  Granted, much of this detritus comes from sources other than sewage.

But to date, the only responses have been “not my problem,” or “people should quit flushing that stuff down the toilet,” or “the rains wash everything into the ocean, so there’s not much we can do.”

The sad fact, however, is that the oceans are in jeopardy, suffering “death by a thousand cuts,” as the accumulated rubbish of civilization extracts its toll.

My question is, what exactly is the plan to deal with this? So far, there has been mainly a lot of finger-pointing, used primarily to justify not doing anything. The situation between Seattle and Victoria is typical, and is but a microcosm of the global condition.  And in the meanwhile, the oceans degrade a little more.

Richard Weatherill


Christy’s impossible dream

My hat is off to David Broadland for his excellent discussion of both Washington’s toxic words and the CRD’s clearly corrupted sense of purpose and ethics. If a thousand words describes the picture, then this sentence paints a clear enough outline to assure this is no Bateman being undertaken.

And Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s column provided excellent concluding food for thought around the provincial government’s LNG dream. Her new dream of “government leading the way” to a low carbon economy, however, is more likely a repeating nightmare. Citizens, enlightened and empowered to cast aside the “required” subsidies and “necessary” regulations and do what they feel is both necessary and required might be the dream we should angle for.

Ryan Gisler


The chill in Shawnigan Lake

South Island Resource Management’s Christopher Siver has wagged his legal finger at the residents of Shawnigan Lake, stating that they have to stop using the word “toxic” in their descriptions of the soil at the dumping site because “it has no valid meaning here. It is so vague and implies certain danger…its use is detrimental to any understanding of what is going on.” He notes that “Residents…just can’t lie.”

Yet somehow he feels it is perfectly reasonable and within legal criteria to say that the site is safe “for a couple of billion years until the sun explodes.” I’d like to see the scientific studies on that. Even a one billion year-long one would do.

Jo Phillips