Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Considering the potential property tax implications and long-term environmental impacts of reimagining the Comox Valley Sewer System, there was relatively small group of people at the first of two public consultation workshops.

About 30 people came out to hear Kris La Rose, senior manager of water/wastewater services at the Comox Valley Regional District, describe the process for redesigning the sewerage system to meet the needs of a growing population and a changing climate for the next 50 years.

At least a third of the audience at the Sannd Trap Bar N Grill at the Comox Golf Club were residents of Area B and Courtenay. Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift also attended.

People can also provide input through an online version of the survey completed by workshop participants.

The Comox Valley Sewer Service (CVSS) serves the City of Courtenay, Town of Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. Residents of Area A, B and C rural electoral areas manage their own wastewater with about 10,000 private septic systems.

La Rose said a new Liquid Waste Management Plan is needed to decide three issues: how best to move sewage to the treatment plant on Brent Road, in Area B; What level of treatment should be applied; and, whether the plan should include resource recovery — reclaiming water for purposes such as irrigation purposes or recharging aquifers.

Separate Public Advisory and Technical committees will consider public input in their deliberations and ultimate recommendations to the Sewage Commission, which will make a decision next summer.

A new plan is necessary for several reasons. The main sewer pipe, called the forcemain, that moves wastewater from the main pump stations to the treatment plant, is 36 years old. It runs through the K’omoks Estuary, under Comox Harbour and Goose Spit, then along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs at Point Holmes before turning inland a short distance to the plant at the end of Brent Road.

Rip rap installed to halt erosion of the bluffs has changed the beach and exposed a section of the forcemain, which a study last year showed was in serviceable condition for the short-term, but still presents a long-term risk. More frequent and intense winter storms put all sections of the forcemain in the foreshore at risk.

The system’s major pump stations are also operating at capacity and need to be upgraded. Expectations have changed about how sewage should be treated and the cleanliness of the effluent discharged into the Strait of Georgia.

A previous plan to replace only the Willemar Bluffs section of the forcemain and build a new pump station in Area B that would continue to receive wastewater pumped through the estuary and harbour was abandoned last year.

The cost had been underestimated by 50 percent and would have created a single point of failure for the whole system. It also had the potential to put shallow wells in the Croteau Beach neighborhood at risk. The CVRD was able to press pause and rethink a more comprehensive plan because with the forcemain in better condition than previously thought, there was less urgency.

La Rose said the plan would also consider treatment upgrade, mostly because the current plant reaches its capacity during major winter rainfalls. Stormwater infiltrates the system and boosts volumes by nearly 4 times over summer levels.

Finally, the plan will consider ways to extract resource benefits from the treatment process. Other communities treat the wastewater to a quality enabling its use for irrigation of farms and golf courses, or to reinject water back into the ground.

Some communities clean the water to potable standards, and flow it back into their drinking water systems.

The workshop was repeated in Courtenay, and there will be further opportunities for public input in the coming months.

 

HISTORY OF SEWAGE TREATMENT IN THE COMOX VALLEY PRIOR TO 1984

 

Courtenay — Primary treatment at lagoon near airpark. Discharged into estuary, and would overflow, releasing raw sewage into the estuary.

Comox — Discharged untreated sewage into estuary via pipe that crossed Goose Spit toward Denman Island.

CFB Comox — Primary treatment at a lagoon near the YQQ airport. Discharged into the Queen’s Ditch, which ran at a shallow decline and emptied offshore at Point Holmes.

 

A GLOSSARY

Advanced Primary Treatment — The use of special additives to raw wastewater to cause flocculation or clumping to help settling
before the primary treatment such as screening.

Dewatered Sludge Cake — The sludge after dewatering that is cake like, compressed. The lower the water content the better
for wastewater treatment purposes.

Digestion — The breaking down of sludge and other waste biologically by microorganisms. Results in byproducts such as methane gas, carbon dioxide, sludge solids and water. Aerobic digestion requires oxygen, anaerobic digestion the absence of oxygen.

Effluent — The final output flow of a wastewater treatment plant.

Flocculation — The process whereby a chemical or other substance is added to wastewater to trap or attract the particulate suspended solids into clusters or clumps of floc or flocculent, wooly looking masses.

Influent Screens — Screens used to remove large inorganic solids from the waste stream.

Natural Systems — Wastewater treatment systems usually biological with a minimum of mechanical components or processes, for example, constructed wetlands.

Primary Wastewater Treatment — The first process usually associated with municipal wastewater treatment to remove the large
inorganic solids and settle out sand and grit.

Reclaimed Water — Reusable wastewater from wastewater treatment such as tertiary treatment of wastewater in biological and other systems.

Secondary Wastewater Treatment — Second biological process of digestion with bacteria

Sewerage — A system of sewers; the removal of waste materials by means of a sewer system.
 
Tertiary Treatment — The use of filtration to remove microscopic particles from wastewater that has already been
treated to a Secondary Level. Anthracite coal is the filter medium used by the MWWD.

Turbidity — A measure of how clear water is in Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU), invisible to the average naked eye until readings in excess of 100 are reached, typically determined by shining light through a sample placed in a turbidimeter.

Ultraviolet Disinfection (UV) — The use of ultraviolet light to kills bacteria and other microorganisms in water and wastewater.
Typically a final treatment step.

Wastewater — Wastewater is “used” water, the water leftover after its use in numerous application such as industrial, agricultural, municipal, domestic and on.

Long-term wastewater planning underway at CVRD

Long-term wastewater planning underway at CVRD

Critical long-term wastewater infrastructure questions are being asked at the CVRD, among them: Should sewer pipes come out of the K’omoks Estuary? What level of treatment do we want, and how will we meet the long-term growth of the Comox Valley? And, should we be planning to recover our wastewater resource?

 

This article was updated Nov. 9

Just over a year ago, the Comox Valley Regional District stepped back from plans to patch the existing sewer service, which serves only Courtenay and Comox, and take time to consider how best to meet the long-term needs of a growing Comox Valley population.

That process got underway this summer with public consultations that have included in-person meetings, an online survey and two open houses held this week at the treatment plant.

Planning is focused on three main areas:

First, how best to collect and convey wastewater to the Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre on Brent Road, near Point Holmes.

The main pipe carrying sewage from the Courtenay #1 pump station next to Kus-kus-sum site on Comox Road, currently runs through the K’omoks Estuary and Comox Harbor, under Goose Spit and along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs before turning inland a short distance to the Brent Road plant.

CVRD engineers and an Public Advisory Committee will consider other options for moving wastewater to the treatment plant, including overland routes that would reduce risk to the K’omoks Estuary. The committee includes eight public members, plus three elected officials and representatives from industry and stewardship sectors.

Lyle Deines, a CVRD treatment plant employee, explains how the laboratory tests for such things as aerobic bacteria that degrade pollutants and the cleanliness of the discharged effluent

Second, what level of treatment should be provided at the treatment plant now, and a long-term plan for meeting both evolving land-use planning standards and the needs of geographical areas beyond the boundaries of Courtenay and Comox.

The existing plant meets or exceeds all provincial and federal standards, but does not provide tertiary level treatment. It doesn’t directly treat for nitrogen, pharmaceuticals or heavy metals.

Nor does it treat wastewater to a standard that can be safely used for agricultural irrigation, golf courses or other non-potable uses, such as groundwater reinjection.

Some communities around North America and elsewhere already treat wastewater to a level that it is directly re-introduced into their drinking water systems.

FURTHER READING: Make your voice heard through the CVRD online survey, see who’s on the Public Advisory Committee and other information

Third, how to incorporate resource recovery options, and its cost, into this long-term planning process.

For example, if upgrades to the treatment plant produced effluent safe for agricultural uses and a new, overland conveyance route was chosen, a new pipe carrying the highly cleaned wastewater could be laid at the same time back to the Courtenay #1 pump station.

Plant employee Colin Packham, in the top photo, shows the new odour control lids on the clarifier tanks, as Area B Director-Elect Arzeena Hamir listens; and, above, center, shows the centrifuges that take the water out of the sludge

Interesting wastewater facts

During this week’s open houses, employees of the treatment plant toured dozens of citizens through the facility. Here’s a random collection of facts and observations from one of those tours.

— The CVRD spent about $2 million retrofitting the plant to mitigate the odour problems that have plagued nearby residents for decades. Permanent covers over the primary clarifiers and a high-tech activated carbon polisher have reduced odours.

But when major community events, such as MusicFest, occur and the volume of waste dumped into the system via septic pumping trucks, the density of the sewage can create a spike in odours. For that reason, these volumes are held and processed during the nighttime when regular residential flows have diminished.

–In the summer months, it takes about 24 hours for sewage to travel from the Courtenay #1 pump station to the treatment plant. But in the winter, when rain water infiltrates the sewer lines, it flushes through much faster, in about 8 hours.

— It takes about one day for wastewater entering the treatment plant to exit to the Point Holmes outfall.

— Effluent travels via gravity only from the treatment plant to the outfall, which is located at the sharp curve in Lazo Road up the Point Holmes hill. The outfall extends 3 km at a 45-degree angle into the Strait of Georgia and terminates at a depth of 60 metres.

— The treatment plant was designed in 1983 and has a permitted maximum daily discharge of 18,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day, and averages about 14,000 cubic meters. The daily average goes down to about 12,000 cubic meters in the summer. In the mid-2000s, the plant started to exceed its maximum daily discharge during peak wet weather events, and now exceed the permitted discharge approximately 30 times per year. Those numbers are reported to the Ministry of Environment. 

Wastewater coming into the plant, left, and the discharged effluent on the right

But in the winter, the volume of wastewater flowing through the plant reaches more than 40,000 cubic meters per day. The increase, which is more than three times the summer average, is due to rain water from winter storms infiltrating the system.

— The treatment plant has a laboratory where testing occurs daily for the quality of effluent leaving the plant, the heaviness of solids entering and the population of aerobic bacteria present during the aeration process that degrade the pollutants for their growth and reproduction.

— The first step in treatment process screens out all the rags, paper, plastic and metals that have been flushed into the sewage pipes. The plant removes a full dumpster load every week.

— Not all solids are removed from the wastewater before it’s discharged into the Strait of Georgia, but most of it. About 3,000 kg of solids enter the plant every day. The discharged effluent contains about 75 kg per day.

 

Public panel will help guide new sewerage plan

Public panel will help guide new sewerage plan

The new Sewer Conveyance Planning Process will include public and technical panels to be formed this summer; plus, the treatment plant gets upgrade to eliminate over-capacity at peak periods

 

When the Courtenay-Comox Sewer Commission put a hold last October on its plans to build a new pump station in Croteau Beach, it signaled the beginning of a new and lengthy process to examine a long list of better options for re-routing wastewater from the two municipalities.

That project — now know as the Sewer Conveyance Planning Process — gets underway in earnest next month.

Comox Valley Regional District staff will present the sewer commission in June with proposed terms of reference for the public and technical advisory panels that will help guide the process. They will also seek authority to hire a technical consultant and will outline plans to engage the public in a series of public events.

Kris La Rose, the senior manager of water/wastewater services for the CVRD, believes the process can still meet the original deadline of reporting back to the sewage commission in January 2019. But he acknowledges that unforeseen issues could cause some delay.

At the same time, he said, the first phase of a long-term project is underway to upgrade the Brent Road treatment plant.

The main sewer pipe carrying sewage and stormwater from Courtenay, Comox and K’omoks First Nations runs along the K’omoks Estuary, through Comox Bay and around the Willemar Bluffs to the Brent Road treatment plant. From there it discharges into the Strait of George via an outfall off Cape Lazo.

FURTHER READING: Beech Street shelved; betters solutions under review

The sewage commission was originally motivated to move quickly because it believed the pipe running along the base of Willemar Bluffs was in imminent danger of being exposed and damaged during winter storms, which could cause it to leak. And a plan, which critics characterized as “hasty,” was developed to build a pump station on Beech Street in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

But further study of the condition of the pipe confirmed its relatively good condition, and an inexpensive solution was found to cover the pipe safely for many more years. That removed the urgency of the sewer commission’s plan.

With time to consider more forward-thinking options and climate change issues, and the emergence of three serious red flags that made a new pump station in Croteau Beach look less desirable, CVRD staff recommended taking another year to study other options for moving Courtenay and Comox wastewater to the treatment plant.

La Rose said the public and technical advisory committees will assist in reviewing the long list of potential pipeline routes and narrowing them down to a short list for more intensive, technical study.

He estimated the two groups would consist of almost 30 members.

Asked by Decafnation if the new sewerage plan would take a broader view and envision a Comox Valley-wide sewerage system enjoyed and paid for by more than the residents of Courtenay and Comox, La Rose said the current planning process is focused on the existing service area. But it’s possible the sewage commission could decide otherwise.

He specifically mentioned the South Courtenay areas of Royston and Union Bay, which voted down a South Sewer Plan last year because it was too expensive. He said adding them into the existing system would only increase the volume of wastewater flows by roughly 5 percent.

If the proposed housing developments at Kensington Properties in Union Bay and the nearby K’omoks First Nation property proceed, La Rose said there might be sufficient economies of scale to bring them (roughly Area A of the regional district) into the Courtenay-Comox system.

But any decision to extend the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system rests with the sewage commission.

FURTHER READING: Watch this page for new about the public advisory committee

Further expansion of the Courtenay-Comox system throughout the Comox Valley is unlikely. The Village of Cumberland has plans to upgrade its own sewerage system, and the Miracle Beach/Saratoga area would require too many miles of expensive pipelines.

Treatment plant to expand

Concurrent with the Sewer Conveyance Planning Process, La Rose is also managing a multi-phase, 50-year project that will eventually double the capacity of the Brent Road sewage treatment plant.

During peak times in the late fall of every year — when the tides are the highest and stormwater runoff hits its peak — the system exceeds capacity at the outfall. The December king tides can vary by 15 feet to 17 feet.

To solve that problem, La Rose said the CVRD will increase the treatment plant’s storage capacity by adding a new and separate equalization tank. The upgrade will enable the plant to store twice as much wastewater during peak flows and release it to the outfall when tides subside.

And new odor control technology is currently being installed that could resolve problems that have plagued neighboring residents since the plant was originally built in the 1980s.

 

Beech Street shelved: better solutions under review

Beech Street shelved: better solutions under review

For nearly three years, a group of rural Comox Valley citizens has warned the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission about the environmental and financial risks of building a sewage pump station on a small Croteau Beach lot.

They’ve spent their own money on independent hydrology and financial experts to support their concerns, and have pointed commissioners toward less expensive and more effective alternatives.

But the commission — primarily the Town of Comox delegates — has consistently turned a deaf ear.

However, all the commissioners heard the message contained in five separate reports on Oct. 24 that collectively validated most of the citizens’ concerns about the project. The message was clear: Beech Street is too expensive and poses too many risks.

So they quickly and unanimously supported a staff recommendation to shelve the Comox No. 2 pump station in favor of three new alternative solutions.

That left several Comox commissioners scrambling to explain why they’ve spent so many taxpayers dollars and staff time on a project they never thoroughly vetted before purchasing real estate, and how they neglected to undertake the studies recommended by their 2011 Sewage Master Plan.

Those studies have now been completed, including a lengthy report from Opus International Consultants that evaluates the 12-year-old plan to decommission the section of sewer pipe on Balmoral Beach, below the Willemar Bluffs. It was feared that wave action and other forces might cause it to fail and create an environmental crisis.

But a separate study by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants reports that the pipe is in better condition than previously thought.

So, with less urgency to remove the Balmoral Beach pipe, Opus has recommended the commission take another 12 months starting in January 2018 to analyze and investigate three better solutions than the ill-considered plan to build a new pump station on Beech Street.

Comox Valley Regional District staff will report back to the commission in January 2019 and make recommendations to restart the project.

The citizens left the Oct. 24 meeting feeling vindicated, but still frustrated by regional district policies that can deny residents affected by infrastructure projects the right to be represented at the decision-making table.

Four new options

Opus consultants have recommended removing the main Courtenay-Comox sewer pipe from intertidal zones due to multiple and significant environmental risks, and relocating it to an overland route — the inland side of Dyke Road — from the Courtenay No. 1 pump station through Comox enroute to the wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road.

They proposed four overland options.

Option 1 would utilize stronger pumps at the Courtenay No. 1 and Comox Jane Place pump stations to move sanitary flows up the Glacier View and Lazo Road hills before gravity takes over and draws sewage down to the Brent Road plant.

Option 2 is the sewage commission’s original plan to build a new pump station at Beech Street. But Opus says this option creates a single point of failure for the entire system, among multiple other concerns, including the highest ongoing operating costs.

The serious disadvantages with Option 2 are the reason Opus has recommended three less expensive and less problematic solutions. So it’s curious why this option was left on the table, other than for comparison purposes and, perhaps, for purely political reasons.

Option 3 also includes a new pump station in Comox, but at a lower elevation, such as the town’s Marina Park. But it also creates a single point of system failure.

Option 4 mirrors the first option, using stronger pumps to move sewage over Glacier View Hill, but would tunnel under Lazo Road Hill, rather than pump sewage over it to the Brent Road treatment plant.

However, the report doesn’t consider how the tunnel option might impact aquifers along the route, and the wells that tap into them, or how the tunneled pipe would be monitored for leaks and accessed for emergency repairs and maintenance.

Why not Beech Street?

Kris La Rose, the CVRD’s manager of sewerage and water operations, summarized the key findings of the five reports for sewage commissioners.

Estimated costs for the Beech Street pump station had jumped by about 50 percent to nearly $20 million. And it was already more expensive than the top options recommended by the CVRD’s Advisory Committee three years ago.

The Opus report included operating costs in its analysis, which citizens have maintained the commission should have considered all along, and that puts Beech Street costs far above all other options.

A complicated tie-in between the main sewer pipe in the foreshore and the new pipe to a Beech Street pump station could only be done by a few specialized and expensive technicians around the world. And short working times due to tidal action made the tie-in fraught with environmental risk.

The small size of the Beech Street property put restrictions on pump station design and construction, and made the CVRD’s guarantees about no odour, noise or vibration beyond the property lines seem questionable.

Opus also pointed a new concern that hadn’t been raised before. The new pump station would have been connected in series, rather than parallel configuration, so a pump failure at any site could shut down the entire system.

The hydrology report indicated significant risks to neighborhood wells.

And, finally, a nearby active eagle’s nest would have required some mitigation.

How sewage commissioners reacted

Comox Councillor Ken Grant tried to deflect blame away from the sewage commission, which he claimed was saddled with a piece of property and bad original information.

He also appeared skepticall of staff’s recommendation to take 12 months to analyze other alternatives to the Beech Street pump station.

“My experience with how government works, is that whatever you say, we can times two,” he said. 

Grant also proposed asking a utilities commission to review the consultants reports because he said they were so technical that he couldn’t understand them.

“We’re managing by crisis,” he said. “And when you do things by crisis, you make bad decisions.”

Courtenay councillor Erik Eriksson suggested staff take this one-year opportunity to consider a bigger sewer project that serves more residents. He specifically suggested a new treatment plant south of Courtenay to serve Union Bay, Royston and possibly Cumberland. He said it would take more pressure off the existing Courtenay-Comox sewerage system.

Comox Councillor Maureen Swift lamented the time and money spent over the several years on the Comox No. 2 pump station project, but she added that the goal was to make the right decision.

Courtenay Councillor Bob Wells reminded the Comox delegates that their municipality has dragged its feet on sewer projects. He mentioned delays in getting the Hudson and Greenwood sewer lines operational.

Area B director Rod Nicol, who was just recently granted a non-voting seat at the sewage commission, said there are too many red flags about the Beech Street project to seriously consider it any longer. But, he added, since it hasn’t been definitively taken off the list of possible options, he should retain his seat on the commission through the January 2019 meeting.

The only response to his request came from Commission Chair Barbara Price, of Comox, who said, “We can talk about that later.”

No Comox Valley-wide solution

The Opus report represents good progress in CVRD sewerage planning. It presents the sewage commission with an opportunity to study three better options than its Beech Street proposal, all of which move the main sewer pipe out of the K’omoks Estuary and Comox Bay and onto an overland route.

The scope of the report does not extend beyond removing pipes from Balmoral Beach and the estuary foreshore, and moving sewage over a longer term to the Brent Road treatment plant, which are all good and necessary goals.

But that still leaves the Royston-Union Bay area to the south of Courtenay and the Saratoga-Miracle Beach area to the north, and the Village of Cumberland, without any long-term strategy for wastewater management.

It’s a better patchwork solution, but it’s still a patch.

To address the broader community’s long-term needs, a Comox Valley-wide solution should at least be envisioned as part of the review of the three Opus options. At the least, any changes in realignment to the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system today must be compatible with requirements for the entire Valley tomorrow.

Almost all of the problems with the Beech Street pump station proposal that were identified in the five reports to the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission this week had already been raised by citizens from the affected Croteau Beach neighborhood years ago.

Had the commission listened to the citizens and took their concerns seriously, they could have saved two years and a lot of taxpayer money.

 

Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

Will common sense prevail in the Comox Valley?

That the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission shelved its multi-million dollar sewerage project this summer comes as no surprise.

For nearly two years, Comox Valley citizens have implored the commission and regional district engineers to consider less expensive and more effective solutions for moving raw sewage from Courtenay and Comox to a treatment plant on Brent Road, on the Comox peninsula.

And to do it on a site or sites that present no risk to people’s drinking water.

But the commission, strong-armed by the representatives from Comox Council and aided by a misinformed CFB Comox delegate, pressed ahead anyway to build a new pump station in Area B, which has no representation on the commission.

Like so many of the commission’s sewer plans in the past, this one seemed destined for another lawsuit costly to Courtenay and Comox taxpayers.

But faced with a cost estimate nearly double the original budget — $12 million to $22 million — and the spectre of adverse impacts to private wells in the neighborhood of the proposed site, the regional district’s engineers saw red flags and took the summer to reconsider.

Courtenay Councillor Erik Eriksson

For more reasonable thinkers, like Erik Eriksson, a Courtenay representative on the commission, this pause in a misguided project provides an opportunity for the regional district to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new overall plan that encompasses the whole Comox Valley, and that takes citizen and environmental concerns seriously.

Let’s review the facts:

The commission proposed building a Comox No. 2 pump station — at a cost of $12 million — to redirect its raw sewage from a deteriorating pipe that runs along the base of the Willemar Bluffs. The current pumps at existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations are inadequate to move the sewage up and over the Comox peninsula to the Brent Road treatment plant.

But the commission’s own Advisory Committee said building a new pump station was the least desirable option of several it considered. The committee recommended rebuilding the existing pump station in Courtenay as the most preferred solution.

The regional district’s own initial financial analysis showed upgrading the Courtenay No. 1 pump station was the best and most cost-effective option in the long run. Email documentation shows the Town of Comox disliked this report.

But an independent analysis confirmed that the CVRD could save taxpayers between $7 million and $12 million in the long-term if it upgraded the pumps at Courtenay immediately.

The commission’s long-term plan is to upgrade the pumps at Courtenay No. 1 in just a few years anyway. So why spend millions unnecessarily now?

In the alternative, the Advisory Committee noted, upgrading the existing pump station at Jane Place in Comox, would also cost less in the long run.

Either of those options would eliminate the need for a second pump station and eliminate the vulnerable section under the Willemar Bluffs. Plus, in both of these options, raw sewage would not threaten any drinking water supplies. Courtenay and Comox residents enjoy piped water, not vulnerable private wells.

And Eriksson, a potential candidate for mayor of Courtenay, has a third option that could also resolve issues created by the failed South Sewer referendum earlier this year.

Eriksson proposes building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant in the south Courtenay area that would handle all wastewater from west of the Courtenay River. That would take enough pressure off the existing Courtenay and Comox pump stations to render the proposed Comox No. 2 pump unnecessary.

And it would also solve the problem of failing septic systems in the Royston and Union Bay areas and provide the infrastructure for new development.

It would also provide a solution for the Village of Cumberland, which shamefully continues to pollute the Trent River watershed and estuary.

The new treatment plant could treat the water to such a high standard to use its effluent for agriculture and other reclamation purposes, including reinjection into groundwater. In an increasing number of communities around the world, wastewater is cleaned to potable standards and even flowed back into drinking water systems.

There are probably other farsighted options, too, rather than spend $22 million — at least! — on a pump station inherent with risks to humans and potentially expensive lawsuits that serves only a narrow purpose.

If there’s any justice and common sense left in this world, next month the engineers for the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission will recommend a more visionary, comprehensive sewerage strategy for the entire Comox Valley.

 

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

Shocker for homeowners: no protection for private wells

If you get drinking water from a private well British Columbia, the provincial government provides no protection from any activities that might foul your water quality.

Sylvia Burrosa, the regional hydrologist for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), delivered that piece of bad news for thousands of Comox Valley residents at a June 6 meeting with Beech Street residents.

Beech Street residents fear that construction and operation of a sewage pump station in the rural neighborhood poses a high risk to their mostly shallow wells. And a hydrology analysis by GW Solutions commissioned by the residents supports that concern.

Several of the residents recently met with representatives of FLNRO, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Kris LaRose, the Comox Valley Regional District’s senior manager of water/wastewater services, at the health department’s Courtenay office.

Burrosa said there are no protections for individual wells under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA). It only addresses threats to drinking water that affect two or more households connected to the same system.

In other words, someone or some entity, such as a regional district, can pollute or dry up your water supply, and you’ll get no help from the province’s water protection law.

That should concern everyone with a private well. But it especially concerns Beech Street residents because LaRose admitted the construction will impact residents’ water supplies.

LaRose said the degree of impact on the wells will be determined by the method of construction of the pump station that will move sewage from Courtenay and Comox households to the treatment plant at a higher elevation.

If they dewater the site to place the pumps below ground there’s a high risk it will dry out neighborhood wells during the entire 18 months of construction.

If they use a pile driving method, rather than dewater, there is an unknown risk of having a permanent object in the aquifers from which the wells draw water. The piles could cause groundwater flows to change direction, making the wells useless.

Given the failed history of regional district engineers to predict outcomes of previous sewage planning (Willemar Bluff erosion, treatment plant odors), and the subsequent successful lawsuits, the Beech Street residents have good reason to worry.

Burrosa also noted that provincial regulations require pipelines carrying sewage to be no closer than 30 metres of wells. Rural residents know that their wells must be 30 metres from their septic fields.

LaRose said the CVRD had to double-wrap the new sewage pipe from HMCS Quadra for this reason. This appears to mean the CVRD would have to do the same for the pipes in the Beech Street neighborhood, which would significantly add to the cost of construction.

None of the health authority or FLNRO representatives could answer questions about the legality of a sewage facility within 30 metres of wells, or whether the forcemain must stay 30 metres from wells along the four (4) kilometres route from Beech Street to the Brent Road treatment plant.

Engineers for the Courtenay/Comox Sewage Commission are waiting for results from an assessment of the forcemain sewer pipe and a new hydrogeology report before they can estimate the cost of constructing the new pump station. Any of those items could raise red flags that derail the project.

But given the risks during construction and the promise of no noise, vibration or odor from the pump station, another lawsuit over Courtenay/Comox sewage planning seems likely.