By 1965 it was recognized that conditions arising from the discharge of sanitary sewage in the Greater Victoria area were unsatisfactory. As in most other urban areas near the sea, it had previously been felt sufficient to discharge sewage raw through outfalls discharging at or near low water and that was the practice in Victoria. Whether that gave rise to a health risk or to significant environmental degradation was arguable but it certainly gave rise to conditions which everyone agreed were no longer acceptable. Worse, however, were various discharges being made to the Gorge and Portage inlet and to the inner harbour, as well as discharges to ditches and streams from malfunctioning septic tanks. These were certainly a health risk and a pollution hazard.
Associated Engineering Services Limited, a Canada wide firm of consulting engineers, was commissioned to study the matter. It is not necessary for our purposes to spell out all the recommendations made in their report or to review the history of what happened to them. Suffice it to say that most were followed and others modified and that the report initiated a series of steps taken over the following years. By the mid '70s, secondary plants had been built to serve Sidney and Brentwood, the latter discharging across the peninsula someway north of Island View Beach. Most of the Victoria area were served by the two long outfalls at Macauley and Clover Points and by a temporary outfall at Finnerty Cove.
For various reasons many local discharges that were to have been connected to the Clover Point outfall were not so connected. Instead, an ameliorative measure was taken by lengthening an outfall at McMicking Point but that was never intended to be a long-term solution. Accordingly, the sewage that discharged down that outfall, plus that from the outfall at Finnerty Cove, together with various other minor unsatisfactory discharges, are now all to be connected to the long outfall at Clover Point and that work is in hand at the time of writing.
These problems have now been overcome or are in process of being overcome. The significant point to note for our purposes is that only the two outfalls at Macauley and Clover Points were designed to prevent pollution over the long term. Unfortunately, however, the continuance of some discharges not in accordance with the engineering designs led to unsatisfactory conditions and thereby tended to discredit the whole operation.
The construction of these two outfalls was based on engineering mathematics developed from years of research and experience. Such criteria are as specific as those used in designing a bridge or any other engineeing structure. In our case the design was to ensure that no pollution would be caused as described in the chapter ‘How Victoria's Long Outfalls work’.
Another adverse factor was that the screens preceding the two long outfalls were not fine enough to prevent the discharge of such objects as tampon holders. This was based on the proposition that no environmental damage or health risk would arise from such discharges and it meant that screenings were much reduced. The cost of removing such screenings on a regular basis is significant. However, it can reasonably be viewed as aesthetically unacceptable and the problems caused by tampon holders on the beaches were another factor in condemning the work that had been done. Once again, that has now been corrected.
Overall, the impact of sanitary sewage on the environment is now very much less significant than it was a generation ago and probably since long before that, despite significant increases in population.
However, some pollution is still caused by the few remaining connections of sanitary sewage to 'storm' sewers and from occasional overflows from such systems.
Apart from these connections, the adverse impact from the many storm sewers proper has not improved but is not to be compared in significance with storm water discharges into fresh water that exist in all our urban areas. Even those are not usually serious in relation to our major problems.
Starting in the early 1970's the Director of the Provincial Pollution Control Branch (the precursor of the Ministry of the Environment regarding pollution issues) began a series of public enquiries. The last of these was the enquiry into municipal waste that has already been mentioned, following enquiries about various categories of industrial discharge. "Objectives" were laid down following each enquiry. As the enquiries proceded, fewer and fewer of the panel chosen to work on the recommendations were chosen from provincial agencies and indeed the muncipal enquiry only had one, being the author.
Other members of the panel represented various disciplines: engineering (two members) and one for each from medicine, biolgy, botany, and economics. (Dr.W.K.Oldham, Dr.R.D.Cameron, Dr.D.V.Ellis, Dr.J.R.Stein, Dr.J.Rienstra).Four of the six held senior univerrsity appointments. They concluded that under the right conditions, untreated sewage could be discharged to the sea without causing degradation. However, most liquid discharges must receive secondary treatment to meet the objectives and in some cases tertiary treatmtnet is necessary.
The discharges at Macauley and Clover Points comply with the "Objectives".
From the mid 1960's until today there has been never-ending pressure on provincial Ministers of the Environment (or their predecessors in the Pollution Control Branch) to require the local authorities to provide treatment, matched continually by advice from experts that it was a waste of money. It may reasonably be suspected that successive Ministers wished at least one expert would tell them that treatment was necessary because in the final analysis politicians live by votes and nothing was ever more unpopular than the discharge of raw sewage. For the first time we have a government with Ministers of the Environment who advocate treatment as desirable and it is reasonable to ponder who is in the right?
Faced with the overwhelming evidence that the long outfalls were doing no harm, The Hon.John Reynolds, until recently Minister of the Environment, responded to the author that "...sewage treatment in Victoria is primarily a social response in recognition of society's changing values..." His successor, The Hon.Cliff Serwa, later wrote that "..The Ministry...recently adopted a policy of requiring the best available control technology...". Best for what purpose is the question.