VICTORIA — After decades of debate and delays, British Columbia has ended the practice of releasing untreated sewage directly into the ocean near Victoria, much to the delight of its neighbors across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“I was wondering why the water looked so clean in front of my house on Bainbridge [Island],” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was quoted by Canadian news sources as saying during a video call with B.C. Premier John Horgan.
“I don’t live actually on the shore, but I know we’re going to enjoy the fruits of your leadership,” the Victoria Times Colonist reported Inslee as saying.
“I know that you played a role in this, as did our predecessors.”
Horgan replied that it took “an awful lot of people over an awful lot of decades, but we finally did the right thing.”
“As a born and raised Victorian, I’ve been contributing to this problem my entire adult life, and I’m happy to say I’m not doing that anymore,” Horgan reportedly told Inslee.
The McLoughlin Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Esquimalt started Tuesday, CBC News said.
“We are now able to say to the public that we are treating our wastewater,” said Colin Plant, the Capital Regional District (CRD) chair and a Saanich district councilor, in an interview with CBC On the Island host Gregor Craigie.
“What is being discharged into the ocean is the cleanest water this region has ever put into the ocean that we would call our wastewater,” Plant said.
Horgan said that Victoria began dumping sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1894. The regional government has said Victoria was the last major coastal community in North America to dispose of untreated sewage into the marine environment.
The four years of construction and weeks of testing of the plant were completed just in time to meet the federal government requirement for a functioning facility before the end of 2020, CBC News said.
The $775 million project will cost about $50 million a year to operate, Plant said.
“We are doing tertiary treatment, three phases of treatment, and we are doing what probably should have been happening for a long time before today,” Plant told CBC News. “But we are finally there.”
He said the process removes microplastics, fine particulates and most pharmaceuticals from the waste stream.
Plant said the McLoughlin Point plant will exceed federal and provincial regulatory requirements for treating sewage from Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, Esquimalt, View Royal, Langford, Colwood, and the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, according to the Times Colonist.
“We’re pleased to be able to say to the residents that we are treating our wastewater beyond what is required [in order] to do what is right for the oceans and our environment,” he said.
“I grew up in Port Angeles, right across the water from Victoria,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer. “So it’s been concerning to me to know that Canada has been sending raw sewage right into our shared waters for years.
“That’s why I’ve worked with our Canadian partners to encourage them to find a solution to this problem. The opening of this new wastewater treatment plant at McLoughlin Point is good news — and will help protect our waters and our marine environment for years to come.”
Until now, raw sewage was passed through a 6-millimeter screen to remove solids, then released into the Strait of Juan de Fuca at an outlet near Victoria’s Clover Point.
Environmental campaigns, including one with a mascot called Mr. Floatie, worked to pressure officials to build a wastewater treatment plant.
James Skwarok, who used to make public appearances as the man-sized turd, welcomed the startup of the water treatment plant, the Times-Colonist said.
“Our initial group called POOP — People Opposed to Outflow Pollution — I think we were very successful in raising attention or awareness that Victoria needed sewage treatment, and we did it in a fun way,” he said.
“I think we’re all very happy that it’s finally done and that we now have tertiary treatment.
“We know that our marine environment will be healthier for it, and we’re very proud that we could help bring this project to fruition.”
CBC News said that, in 1992, CRD voters opposed a primary or secondary sewage treatment system in a non-binding regional referendum.
In 2008, B.C.’s minister of the environment ordered the CRD to start treating its raw sewage.
In 2012, new regulations required the CRD to have a treatment plant up and running by the end of 2020.