Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

A lagoon at the Comox Valley wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated following the April 16 Sewage Commission meeting. It was originally published April 15.

 

Curtis Road residents want Comox, Courtenay and other users of a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood to pay them under a Host Community Compensation agreement.

Speaking for the Curtis Road Residents Association at Tuesday’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting, Jenny Steel said neighbors of the treatment plant have endured 35 years of noxious odors and numerous failed promises to eliminate the smells. The plant opened in 1984.

“And the plant still stinks,” she told commissioners from the two municipalities and CFB Comox.

There are 49 properties between the treatment plant and the Strait of Georgia at Cape Lazo. Many of them were established in the 1930s and still belong to the same families. But the location puts residents in the path of daily off-shore breezes, which pick up odors from the open treatment facilities and blows them through Curtis Road homes.

In a 17-page history of the odor problems sent to commissioners last week, Steel said residents find the stink is so strong that it wakes them up at night. When the sewer smell gets really bad — usually when there’s no wind from the southeast to blow the odors back toward the plant — residents are forced out of their homes because it’s “sickening.”

Previous Sewage Commissions ignored the problem and refused to finance additional remedies, so the residents sued, and won. The Sewage Commission compensated homeowners for reduced property values and rental incomes. There are carriage houses and secondary residences on some properties.

“But the problem hasn’t gone away,” Steel said. “It’s a little better now than last year, and it will probably be a little better next year … but it’s still there.”

British Columbia has no odor control standards. Only the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have established standards.

An air quality study completed in 2016 showed that odors from the Brent Road plant exceeded the Ontario standards up to two kilometers away and that at some Curtis Road homes they exceeded the metric by 10 times.

The sewerage system and treatment plant serves only residents of Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. It is managed for them by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is no representation on the Sewage Commission from Area B.

After Steel presented a history of the problem, the commission voted to request a staff report before responding to the residents’ demands.

The residents want the Sewer Commission to immediately and completely cover its bioreactors to control the odours emitted during the biological process of removing pollutants from the wastewater. They estimate the cost at around $3 million, although the CVRD puts it over $5 million.

Steel also asked the commission to reassess the need for a new equalization basin, or to at least relocate it on the treatment plant’s 35-acre site in the Cape Lazo area.

The removal of trees in about 25 percent of the forested buffer area between the plant and Curtis Road to build the new EQ basin has made the plant visible from residents’ properties, and further reduced their value.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel said the Sewer Commission did not consider the visual stigma created by this new EQ basin “and its effect on our home prices as well as the potential additional odour source.”

The plant uses EQ basins a few times each year when high tides coincide with an increased volume of liquid entering the plant due to heavy rainfalls, according to Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose.

He said that because treated wastewater flows by gravity from the plant to the outfall in the Strait of Georgia off Point Holmes, they must store partially treated wastewater for “several hours on a handful of days” during the late fall and early winter.

The Curtis Road residents also want the Sewer Commission to sign a Host Community Benefit Agreement to compensate homeowners until the odour problem is resolved and a visual screen is restored.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel described a Host Community agreement.

“The concept … is to balance the impacts a local community may experience in hosting a waste management facility against the advantages received by the users of the facilities from other communities,” she said.

Steel pointed to the $9 million agreement between the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Committee and the Village of Cumberland in 2013 for hosting the North Island landfill within their municipal boundaries.

The Capital Regional District also signed a Host Community Compensation agreement with Esquimalt for locating that region’s new sewage treatment plant.

Steel said she was happy with today’s meeting. 

“I was delighted  that we had a packed house,” she told Decafnation. “The sewage commission members were engaged and respectful, plus it seemed that most had read our report.   

“We’ll obviously know more when we receive their response next month.”

 

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Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Over the last six months, members of a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee have developed a long list of new options for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The committee narrowed those conveyance options down to a short-list of three at its March 22 meeting. They plan to present their preferred conveyance routes to the Sewer Commission in May or June, or after consultations conclude with the K’omoks First Nation.

All three options involve rerouting the sewerage system’s pipes overland. That means there will be no sewage-carrying pipes left in the estuary. The commission’s previous plan relied on aging pipes located in the estuary, along Comox Harbor and Point Holmes beaches.

And, unlike the previous sewage master plan, none of the short-listed options require a new high risk in-line pump station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

Opposition from Croteau residents was a major contributing factor in the development of the new Liquid Waste Management Plan. But they are pleased with the new plans.

“This process has been everything an open community process should be,” Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and committee alternate, told Decafnation. “It is a complete opposite experience from the last plan.”

Kris LaRose, senior manager of water and wastewater services for the Comox Valley Regional District, said the process is following guidelines mandated by the provincial government, which will ultimately review and approve the management plan.

Sewer route short list

The option known as “2A” would pump sewage directly from the Courtenay pump station over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. This option will require a new pump station in the Town of Comox, within about 300 meters of the existing Jane Place pump station.

The 2A option mitigates the environmental and archaeological risks of having sewage pipes in the estuary and on the Comox peninsula foreshore. This overland route maximizes accessibility to all pipes and structures for maintenance. It involves two large pump stations and the upgrade of Courtenay and Jane Place facilities.

In an option known as “4A,” sewage from Courtenay would be pumped directly to the treatment plant via a northern overland route across the Courtenay flats, rising up and crossing McDonald Road and skirting the northern boundaries of the Town of Comox. Sewage from Comox would continue to pump directly from Jane Place to the treatment plant

The committee collapsed three separate plans for tunnelling under Comox Hill and Lazo Road into a single option on the short list. But all three will be studied separately.

One option proposes tunnelling under both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill, and the other two would tunnel under only Lazo Road hill.

The differences among the three tunnelling options revolve around how the Comox Jane Place pump station would tie into the main line and the degree of upgrades required for the Jane Place pumps.

Evaluating the options

All members of the Joint Technical and Public Advisory Committee contacted by Decafnation praised LaRose and facilitator Allison Habkirk, who also served as the committee chair, for creating a successful process.

Habkirk, a three-term mayor and councillor for Central Saanich, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, and a registered town planner at her own firm.

The first three committee meetings focused exclusively on goals and the evaluation methodology through which the options were eventually viewed.

“It was a rigorous process with a strong consultation component,” LaRose said.

The group agreed on five metrics: social benefits, environment factors, technical considerations, affordability and economic benefits.

The technical and public members of the committee differed in the weighting to give each of the five metrics, but they compromised at 17 percent for social benefits, 18 percent for environmental, 45 percent on technical, 18 percent on affordability and two percent on economic benefits.

Paul Nash, of Sechelt, is assisting Habkirk and the committee as the management plan’s project coordinator. Nash was the project manager for Schelt’s innovative Water Recovery Center, and is currently consulting with the Village of Cumberland on the renovation of its wastewater treatment facility.

Walt Bayless, an engineer with the global company WSP, which recently acquired the Canadian firm, Opus International, is the consultant on the project.

Committee comments

The short-list of conveyance options going forward for further detailed study are the best possible options from the perspective of environmental protection, according to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, who is representing the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership on the committee.

“Conveyance of raw sewage through and within the K’omoks estuary is inherently risky to the health of our marine environment both within the K’omoks estuary itself and to the greater Baynes Sound ecosystem,” Ennis told Decafnation. “While this route represents the current status quo, we are thrilled to see that it will not be included as an option going forward as the system is upgraded to meet future demand.”

Ennis said the Conservation Partnership has been pleased with the “transparent and inclusive democratic process associated with the LWMP.” He particularly noted the broad range of interests represented and the CVRD’s efforts to engage the general public.

“We feel that on the topic of conveyance, the CVRD’s LWMP process finds the right balance between cost-effectiveness, the avoidance of negative social impacts, and environmental protection,” he said.

Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, who represented the city on the LWMP advisory committee said he’s proud to be part of the planning.

“I have been truly impressed by this process,” Cole-Hamilton said. “It brings together such a large and diverse group of people – politicians, community members, KFN leaders, and sewage experts who’ve made this their life’s work.”

Croteau Beach resident Aitken praised the process for its organization and communications.

“They laid out the process at the beginning and they did exactly what they said they would do,” Aitken said. “It was so refreshing.”

Next steps

If the sewer commission approves the Technical and Public advisory committee’s short list of options, the WSP consultants will study each of them in-depth. Then the committee will review WSP’s findings and make a final recommendation to the sewer commission sometime this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS A LIQUID WASTE MANAGEMENT PLAN?

The liquid waste management plan process is used by local governments in BC to develop strategies for managing sewer services. It includes the collection/review of existing information, development of options for future services, identification of a preferred option, completion of required studies and assessments and development of financial and implementation plans. The plan is ultimately submitted to the provincial government for review and consideration for approval.

Public engagement is key to the planning process. Public input will be collected online and through public events, which will be posted on this page. Residents of Courtenay and Comox are encouraged to weigh in with feedback, to help the CVRD develop a plan that works best for the community.

 

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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.