The debate over what to do with our waste continues in the Capital Regional District.
The region’s wastewater treatment centre came online in December 2020, a solution to 40 years of pumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The new treatment centre creates what are called biosolids. And more than two years after the wastewater treatment facility came online, the CRD still doesn’t have a reliable, long-term plan as to what to do with by-product.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place right now about what to do with biosolids,” said Jeremy Caradonna, CRD director and Victoria city councillor told CHEK News. “When we built the wastewater facility, we didn’t have a solution for what to do with biosolids and we continue to struggle with what to do with them.”
The plan was to send biosolids from the CRD to the mainland for the company LaFarge to use. The challenge is they’ve not been consistently open. CRD staff say LaFarge was closed 300 out of the 365 days in 2022, so instead biosolids have been building up at the Hartland Landfill.
Landfilling biosolids is illegal in B.C., but the province has been giving the CRD a pass as they find a long-term plan for alternative “beneficial use” of the material.
Decision to ship biosolids to Nanaimo called ‘hypocritical’
In a tight vote on February 8, the CRD decided to start shipping their biosolids to Nanaimo, where they will be used as fertilizer for logging and reforestation sites or mining areas, despite the CRD having a ban for the practice itself.
“It’s a little bit hypocritical,” said Sid Tobias, CRD director, vice-chair of the CRD Environmental Services Committee and View Royal mayor. “It’s still on the island. It’s still with a neighbour city. So we’re shuffling our challenge off.”
In a weighted vote, where larger communities of the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee have value added to their votes, the result was 37-31 in favour of shipping biosolids to Nanaimo.
The single-director vote was 8-7 in favour, revealing that CRD leaders are very much divided.
One camp points to the federal and provincial stance that using the by-product as fertilizer on non-agricultural land is safe and legal.
“The kind of fear that’s out there has not materialized in human health issues,” said Zac de Vries, CRD director and Saanich councillor.
Biosolids strictly regulated and tested: ministry
In a statement to CHEK News, the Ministry of Environment said the treatment and land application of biosolids are strictly regulated and controlled in B.C.
“The materials produced must be in accordance with provincial regulations for producing Class A biosolids, which includes testing and notification of their application,” said the Ministry of Environment. “The ministry outlines acceptable levels of different biosolids components before they are allowed to be applied to land. These levels are based on the latest scientific research and ensure any potential environmental risks are minimized.”
Those opposed to the land application of biosolids say the province’s chemical testing on biosolids isn’t broad enough to make sure there’s no harm.
“The current testing regime is limited to certain contaminates and doesn’t include other contaminates, including the so-called forever chemicals,” said Caradonna, pointing to countries like Germany, the Netherlands and China which he says are switching to different ways to treat human waste.
Shipping the biosolids to Nanaimo is a short-term plan. Caradonna is concerned the short-term plan may instead, stick around. Caradonna says he’s preparing a new motion to bring forward to the next CRD meeting to ask for more robust testing.
Mid-March, CRD staff are expected to present a report looking into more long-term solutions for waste treatment and the use of biosolids. It’s unclear when the biosolid shipments to Nanaimo will start, or where it will be spread.