Let’s try to simplify the Victoria Sewage Problem by stating clearly what’s at stake.
We should start with the science. Dr. Tom Pedersen, a highly respected oceanographer at the Pacific Institute of Climate Solutions tells us categorically that the currents, temperatures and other aspects of the Juan de Fuca Strait render it unique. We do not face the same sewage disposal problems as other communities because Nature plays a different role breaking down the organic particles.
With one important qualification (to which I will return) he tells us that the treatment of human sewage is a non-problem because Nature is on our side and primary measures are in place. Until we hear compelling counter-evidence, we should believe him.
Now let’s look at the legal dimensions of the problem. Our lawmakers at both the provincial and federal levels have developed general rules to ensure that sewage problems that are experienced throughout the province and the country are addressed. Laws are general in nature. The demands of our lawmakers are not tailored to deal with the idiosyncrasies of our particular situation. So we find ourselves having to meet standards that are both redundant and hugely expensive. To paraphrase Charles Dickens’ character Mr. Bumble, if the law requires us to pay $780 million to fix a non-problem then the law is an ass.
I have taught law for over 30 years. I do not believe the law is an ass. It is quite normal to read exemptions into the law, and to read it in a purposive way.
At this point, our municipal representatives should be placing the current scientific evidence before their provincial and federal counterparts in an attempt to gain recognition of our exceptional circumstances, to obtain assurances that the laws will be read purposively. As with many of our environmental problems, the source of the trouble is to be found in our democratic institutions.
So do we not have to worry about sewage? No, we have to remain vigilant and monitor and regulate our situation carefully. Dr. Pedersen’s qualification that I noted earlier is that our sewage is contaminated by petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals. We need to ensure that people and businesses do not use our sewage pipes as dumping grounds for dangerous substances. And even at our most vigilant we are unlikely to be 100% successful. We should be directing our minds to the problem of diverting hazardous materials from our oceans and recovering the resources that we obtain; it is on this issue that we should be consulting our scientists and risk management experts. Our thoughts about secondary treatment should be informed by these problems rather than by a non-problem. Our plans to divert sewage should be based on the best available technology. The current proposal is not sustainable over the long term. It runs the risk of making a non-problem into a land-based sewage disposal problem for which we don't have great solutions.