Shellfish prove risk, says government

Activists, scientists still disagree about safety of Victoria’s sewage

Shellfish harvesting has been banned in the area from Albert Head to Cordova Bay since 1990, but the effects of Victoria’s sewage outfalls are coming under close scrutiny as discussions are accelerating toward the proposed treatment plant.

Activists, scientists still disagree about safety of Victoria’s sewage

Shellfish in the south Island may not get a say in how Victoria treats its sewage, but the bi-valve creatures could be speaking volumes.

A shellfish contamination alert has permanently closed an area from Albert Head in Metchosin around the southern tip of the Island to Cordova Bay, the region bordering Victoria’s two sewage outfalls. The sanitary closure isn’t news — the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has preserved this year-round harvesting ban since 1990, just years after the outfalls were installed — but the impact on mollusks and crustaceans in the region has some considering the messages.

“The majority of contamination we see is in the area of the outfalls,” says Elysha Gordon, shellfish biologist with the DFO and resource management coordinator for the Canadian Shellfish Sanitization Program. “With most fish and animals, the animal eats something, then excretes it. With bi-valves, and sometimes crabs, the substances it eats accumulate and stay in its body.”

The Macaulay and Clover Point outfalls have been in use since the 1970s, with wastewater passing through fine, six-millimetre screens that remove solid objects larger than a thumbtack. The remaining wastewater is jetted out through two multi-port outfalls located 60 metres below the surface, where it mixes with seawater and is dispersed by tidal currents in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Yet with time crunching down on the Capital Regional District to assert a new sewage plan, activists on both sides of the issue are stoking the debate.

“Diluting our waste into the sea is totally irresponsible, and we are using an outdated view from the ’90s,” says Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt. “I’m convinced treatment is the way to go. The age of easy money to build infrastructure is behind us — we’ll never have as much money as we do now, so the only answer is to stop pollution now.”

But while an impact seems clear, Isitt agrees that only time will tell the environmental and financial reactions caused from the proposed secondary sewage treatment plant — a proposal that will mean redistributing more concentrated waste either to Hartland Landfill or other yet unknown means of disposal. Some residents have taken a firm stance against leaping into salty water before all the facts are clear.

“Shellfish are banned for contamination near most densely populated areas due to the pollution of storm drain run-off, so I think it is very unlikely that, even if the outfalls had more treatment, we would see the ban lift,” says Dr. Shaun Peck, former medical officer of health to the CRD and a board member of the Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment (ARESST). “It is very difficult to see the clear benefit that a treatment plant would give Victoria … what we’re dealing with here is people’s belief systems versus the evidence.”

So far, that evidence has shown surface water sampling around the outfalls to record safe fecal coliform levels that have remained well below B.C.’s guidelines to protect swimmers — although some higher levels (termed “plumes”) have been recorded in the winter months near the end of the outfalls.

In 2008, a CRD-lead study found that “minor effects” resulted from the discharge area (approximately the size of a football field) around each outfall. While the majority of sediment substances were found to be at levels similar to previous years, a few substances, like metals, showed an increase in concentration close to the outfalls. Even in that report four years ago, the CRD predicted there could be potential effects on seafloor organisms within these areas, though they also discovered an increase in organisms closer to the outfalls, likely due to “an abundant food source” from the discharge. These “outfall communities” also showed a different composition of organisms, although the CRD reported that their function and health were similar to communities further away — at Clover Point, mussels near the outfall were larger than those further away. Measurements of age and reproductive status, as well as tissue chemistry showed “no harmful effects” from the outfall, though the shellfish-harvesting ban was in effect then.

Gordon says, indeed, there are “no guarantees” that the ban would be lifted with additional treatment on the sewage. But while the DFO only enforces sanitary closures (Environment Canada deals with water-quality testing and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency handles shellfish safety), Gordon says treatment is important to water safety.

“What we are concerned about is that shellfish do have the potential to carry viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis, which they can consume through effluent, and that’s why the closures are important,” she says. “There are just a lot of people and a lot of excretion. I don’t think we could leave nature to do this job — we need to offer all the help we can.” M

Just Posted

WHAT’S ON TAP: Howl Brewing joins the pack of local craft beer operations

Monday beer columnist Matt Poirier checks out a new microbrewer in North Saanich

Charman’s name will live on through Victoria Conservatory of Music bursary fund

Iconic arts patron Eric Charman thrilled to see financial assistance fund growing

Women’s March Victoria keeps movement going with UVic symposium

Discussions, community building and fundraising event highlights women of colour, LGBTQ, immigrants

ROCK THE SHORES 2018: A variety of musical flavours throughout weekend in Colwood

Headliners Brian Wilson, Sheepdogs and X Ambassadors part of diverse lineup festival

Slow year for film productions on the West Shore

Local film commission says there’s still been lots of interest

WATCH: Trades workers brought into spotlight at Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Sheet metal, roofing apprentices compete for national bragging rights

Reviews are in for B.C.-shot ‘Skyscraper’ action movie

City’s film liaison recalls four days of filming at city hall last fall, with Dwayne Johnson on set

B.C. singer up against Shania Twain for Canadian country music award

Madeline Merlo and Shania Twain are two of five nominees for female artist of the year.

Nicolas Cage films in B.C. town

Hollywood actor filming A Score to Settle in North Okanagan

Canadian actress Sandra Oh makes Emmys history with ‘Killing Eve’ nomination

Oh made history as the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award for lead actress in a drama series.

Mexican culture comes alive during Festival Mexicano

Free two-day festival happens this weekend in Victoria’s Centennial Square

NEW FESTIVAL: Vegans of Victoria unite

First ever Vegtoria features all things vegan, July 21 in Centennial Square

Victoria lotto winner looking forward to Mexican holiday with family

Angella Gordon-Spence won weekly $1,000 payday for 25 years on Set for Life scratch game

Justin Bieber confirms engagement to American model Hailey Baldwin

Bieber confirmed the engagement in an Instagram post Monday, July 9, 2018, that included a photo of Baldwin kissing him.

Most Read