Since the last municipal election in November 2014, a lot has changed in the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) ongoing debate about sewage treatment.
It appears that a definite shift has occurred as a result of a political shift in leadership around the CRD Board table. New Mayors have brought new vision about how best to treat our waste-water and recover its by-products. Two groups have formed, the Westside group of Colwood, Langford, Songhees and View Royal and the Eastside group of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay. The Westside got a head start on discussion and consultation, and continue to work together to find solutions and treatment sites. The Eastside group is catching up and working hard to bring information to the public and involve them in dialogue, key citizen engagement that until now has been lacking, especially for Oak Bay residents and taxpayers in my view.
A new more pressing factor to also consider for sewage treatment is water — how much will be used to drive a sewage system, how will water be recovered and what is the best science on water sustainability and sewage treatment? These are important questions, given the latest information about drought conditions in California and now Washington State. I feel that parts of BC, especially on Vancouver Island, can’t be far behind in declaring that drought is a very real possibility. On the Island, the Cowichan Valley is suffering significant water shortages and drought-like conditions and never before have residents seen the Cowichan River so low at this time of year, threatening fish stocks, agriculture and community water use.
In the meantime, a call by Mayor Stu Young of Langford for a moratorium on raising anymore CRD taxes to fund work related to the failed McLoughlin Point project seems to be resonating with others. Additional voices supporting Mayor Young’s position go further and request that funding for Seaterra be suspended, given that they still receive a whopping $170,000. a month of taxpayers’ money, despite the fact that no current wastewater treatment plan yet exists.
Mayor Lisa Helps and her Eastside Select Committee have also released to the public 40 possible sites throughout the CRD where treatment plants could “feasibly” be located. Of course, this information has caused quite a stir and public reaction has been mixed and swift. But kudos to Mayor Helps and the Eastside Select Commmittee for being transparent in their deliberations, and for taking the bold step to inform the public about what might be possible in siting treatment plants throughout the region.
Further public meetings are scheduled, a survey is being conducted for the Eastside and Mayor Helps says that she hopes to have preliminary decisions made by the end of June 2015, and re-zoning completed by December, with a plan ready to go in early 2016. These are ambitious goals, partly driven by funding requirements but also by the desire to solve this issue after 20 years of regional wrangling. Waste-water treatment has been a contentious topic for the past 20 years in Greater Victoria but, with new leadership, I am hopeful that a solution is forthcoming, as long as we can successfully navigate the treacherous waters of public opinion. Municipal leaders, volunteer committee members and a body of professionals all have their hands on the tiller, hoping to avoid the rocks. Stay tuned…