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Harbour pollution and sewage treatment in Victoria, British Columbia

Petition: No. 194

Issue(s): Human health/environmental health and waste management

Petitioner(s): A Canadian resident

Date Received: 7 March 2007

Status: Completed 

Summary: The petitioner believes that the proposed construction of additional sewage treatment facilities in Victoria and Esquimalt, B.C., which would have federal funding support, may not be necessary. The petitioner is concerned that a Transport Canada study on the topic of sediment transport may not have been used in making the decision about the sewage treatment project. The petition alleges that pollution in Juan de Fuca Strait may have come not only from the two outfalls in the area, but from years of solid waste dumping, the dumping of dredged sediment into harbours, pollution escaping from sunken ships, storm drains, ships hull scaling, and possibly the transport of heavy metal-laden sediments.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Defence, Transport Canada

Petition

Date: 28 February, 2007. (Amended and resubmitted 7 March, 2007)

Contact information:
John Newcomb, Geography Department, University of Victoria, PO Box 3050, Victoria, BC
V8W 3P5. Phone: 250-721-7346. Email: jnewcomb@uvic.ca

Title of petition:
Information and Monitoring Related to Potential Additional Sewage Treatment Project, Victoria, BC.

Background information:
In July, 2006, the BC provincial minister of environment declared that the Capital Regional District (Greater Victoria) must plan for additional sewage treatment. Minister Penner based his decision on a report that assumed that the only source of pollution in the marine area of Juan de Fuca Strait could have come from the two outfalls of the CRD1. He could have invoked provincial Contaminated Sites regulations, in order to force the CRD to amend its current Liquid Waste Management Plan for Core Victoria sewage treatment, which currently includes preliminary-stage sewage treatment, long outfalls and source controls.

However, there has been a long history of solid waste dumping, dumping of harbour dredgings, pollution escaping from sunken ships, storm drains, ships hull scaling and the possibility of a significant transport of heavy-metal laden sediments Esquimalt and Victoria Harbours floor into this area over the past 100 years. This would obviously compromise any sediment studies done for the purpose of assessing the outfalls' contribution to metals in the sediments.

Given the historical usage of Esquimalt and Victoria Harbours as industrial areas for more than a century, and because these Harbours are subject to both tidal and fresh-water flushing into Juan de Fuca Strait very near to the outfalls, it should be absolutely necessary to evaluate studies of the sediment transport when discussing the presence of metals and chemicals near the outfalls.

I am most concerned that neither Minister Penner nor the consultants had access to a Transport Canada study on this topic, a study that as of 8 November 2005, was being evaluated and not ready for public release, according to [name and position withheld]:

"Transport Canada and its consultants are in the process of preparing a basin wide risk assessment of Transport Canada administered and controlled harbour floor in Victoria Harbour. As part of this work, harbour sediment transport processes are being evaluated. We anticipate that this study will be finalized in the Spring of 2006 and available for circulation shortly thereafter." (Email: [name and position withheld])

Since I was to be notified of the eventual release of the Transport Canada study, and have not been notified, I can only assume that it is either not ready, or a decision has been made not to release it.

The baseline study on Esquimalt and Victoria Harbours by Transport Canada should address the issue of sediment migration from the Harbours into the outer area surrounding the Macaulay and Clover Point outfalls. An alternate hypothesis as to the presence of metals in the area could be transport from the Harbours, as well as the long-term solid-waste dumping in an area not far from Macaulay Outfall, near the Quarantine Station buoy

My concern is that the lack of information of alternative sources of contamination may have contributed to Minister Penner's demand for additional sewage treatment by the CRD. However, if the Juan de Fuca Strait contamination is not originating from the outfalls, or if the outfall contamination is not significantly harmful to the environment, then the federal funding support will be wasted in building sewage treatment that provides no measurable reduction in levels of contaminants in the area. In fact, the federal support for additional sewage treatment may actually contribute to negative environmental consequences, since the construction and operation of the sewage plant and associated sewage sludge plant and disposal will be very problematic (production of GHGs, landscape deterioration, sludge disposal, etc).

Specific questions

  1. Why has Transport Canada taken so long to release the harbour pollution studies, especially if they were aware of the key role of such information, and that could have led Minister Penner to consider alternative origins of contamination arising from an area of federal responsibility (the two harbours), into a marine area that also has federal responsibility through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?
  2. If the Transport Canada harbour pollution studies are in fact completed, what is the substance of the studies?
  3. If the any studies of the harbour contamination indicate migration of contaminated sediment into the Juan de Fuca Strait region, what is the federal plan of Environment Canada and Transport Canada to mitigate the impact of such contamination on the environment?
  4. Are there any official records from the Department of National Defence of metals or chemicals from operations in or around the naval base being directly deposited (through ships hull scaling or otherwise) into Esquimalt Harbour, or into the Royal Roads marine area?
  5. Is there any plan or intention by any department or agency of the federal government to direct the remediation marine environment of the Juan de Fuca Strait marine area?

Federal departments and agencies that need to respond:
Department of National Defence, Environment Canada, Transport Canada.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I would be pleased to furnish additional information that I might have available to me.

[Original signed by John Newcomb]

Cc: Dr. Keith Martin, MP Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca.


1 D. MacDonald and D Smorong, An Evaluation of Sediment Quality Conditions in the Vicinity of the Macaulay Point and Clover Point Outfalls, May 2006.

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Minister's Response: Environment Canada

2 August 2007

Mr. John Newcomb
Geography Department
University of Victoria
P.O. Box 3050
Victoria, British Columbia
V8W 3P5

Dear Mr. Newcomb:

I am pleased to provide Environment Canada's response to your Environmental Petition No. 194 to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, titled "Information and Monitoring Related to Potential Additional Sewage Treatment Project, Victoria, BC." Your petition was received in the Department on March 22.

The petition poses five questions. Of these, you have requested a response from Environment Canada related to two, namely,

  1. If any studies of the harbour contamination indicate migration of contaminated sediment into the Juan de Fuca Strait region, what is the federal plan of Environment Canada and Transport Canada to mitigate the impact of such contamination on the environment; and
  2. Is there any plan or intention by any department or agency of the federal government to direct the remediation of the Juan de Fuca Strait marine area?

With respect to your first question, my department is not aware of any studies indicating that contaminated sediments are migrating from either Esquimalt or Victoria harbours into the Juan de Fuca Strait region. In any case, through the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Program, Environment Canada provides expert scientific advice to federal custodial departments for the remediation of federal contaminated sites, including sites in both harbours, when requested. Furthermore, my department is a signatory partner in the Victoria and Esquimalt Harbours Environmental Action Program, which is an intergovernmental partnership working to protect and improve the environmental quality in Portage Inlet, Gorge Waterway, Victoria and Esquimalt harbours, as well in Esquimalt Lagoon. Environment Canada serves on the stewardship and information sharing committees of the Environmental Action Program. We also work cooperatively with other federal, provincial, regional and municipal government agencies to coordinate harbour environmental management activities through the Environmental Action Program's Environmental Management Strategy.

In response to your second question, Environment Canada does not have any specific plans to direct the remediation of the Juan de Fuca Strait marine area. However, under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, the Department is taking a national approach to the management of municipal sewage through participation in the development of a Canada-wide strategy for the management of municipal effluents. The strategy will propose national standards for wastewater effluents, which will require a minimum of secondary treatment, or equivalent, for all wastewater systems, as well as a timeline for implementation. My department intends to develop a wastewater regulation under the Fisheries Act, as the principle federal instrument to implement the Canada-wide strategy. The Canada-wide strategy is expected to include performance standards aimed at reducing harmful substances in municipal wastewater effluents in Canada.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by John Baird, Minister of the Environment]

John Baird, P.C., M.P.

c.c.:

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Gordon O'Connor, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Loyola Hearn, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Ronald C. Thompson, Interim Commissioner of
the Environment and Sustainable Development

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Minister's Response: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

17 July 2007

Mr. John Newcomb
Geography Department
University of Victoria
PO Box 3050
Victoria, British Columbia
V8W 3P5

Dear Mr. Newcomb:

Thank you for your Environmental Petition 194 to the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, dated 28 February 2007, concerning information and monitoring related to potential additional sewage treatment at Victoria, British Columbia.

I share your concern for issues related to pollution of marine harbours, and though you have not posed any specific questions to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I would like to take a moment to identify Fisheries and Oceans Canada's (DFO's) activities related to the issues that you raise in your petition.

DFO has been working with many agencies, including Transport Canada, towards the effective management of the marine habitat of these harbours. In 1994 DFO was signatory to the Victoria Esquimalt Harbours Environmental Action Program (VEHEAP) which was created to foster cooperation and information sharing amongst the key government agencies with interests in the harbour area. A number of studies, undertaken by various agencies and stakeholders, have been completed. Once the most recent Transport Canada study is released, DFO will review it and provide comments to Transport Canada related to the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat through VEHEAP and the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP).

You also raise concerns about sediment transport patterns in the Victoria/Esquimalt harbours and the potential for migration of contaminated sediment into Juan de Fuca Strait. I understand that studies conducted to date have not indicated that contaminated sediments are migrating out of Victoria and Esquimalt harbours into Juan de Fuca Strait. As indicated above, DFO will review the most recent Transport Canada study once it is released and provide comments to Transport Canada through VEHEAP and FCSAP. 

DFO will continue to work collaboratively with the VEHEAP partners and other stakeholders in the Victoria and Esquimalt harbours to provide advice and expertise for the conservation and protection fish and fish habitat in the area. DFO currently has no specific plans to undertake remediation of Juan de Fuca Strait.

I thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention, and for your interest in environmental protection.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Loyola Hearn, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans]

Loyola Hearn, P.C., M.P.

c.c.:

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable John Baird, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable Gordon O'Connor, P.C., M.P.

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Minister's Response: National Defence

11 July 2007

Mr. John Newcomb
Geography Department
University of Victoria
PO Box 3050
Victoria, British Columbia
V8W 3P5

Dear Mr. Newcomb:

The Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development forwarded to me your environmental petition entitled "Information and Monitoring Related to Potential Additional Sewage Treatment Project, Victoria, BC." I am responding to questions 4 and 5 of your petition, Environmental Petition No. 194, which relate to my jurisdictional responsibilities.

In question 4, you asked if there are "any official records from the Department of National Defence of metals or other chemicals from operations in and around the naval base being directly deposited (through ships hull scaling or otherwise) into Esquimalt Harbour, or into the Royal Roads marine area." My officials have advised me that they have two studies in their possession, which establish the presence of contamination in Esquimalt Harbour and the historical activities that contributed to this current state:

  • An Environmental Study of Esquimalt Harbour, Environmental Sciences Group, Royal Military College, 1993; and
  • Draft copy of the Transport Canada-commissioned Esquimalt Harbour Baseline Study, Hemmera Envirochem Inc. (2002).

It should be noted that the referenced studies have little information regarding sediment quality in the marine area adjacent to Royal Roads. Moreover, there is no documentation in my department that describes the discharge overboard of heavy metals or other chemicals from a Department of National Defence vessel in that area.

Since 1997, the Department of National Defence has retained records of all fuel spills and storm water outfall samples into the harbour measured against the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Guidelines.

In question 5, you ask if there is "any plan or intention by any department or agency of the federal government to direct the remediation of the marine environment of the Juan de Fuca Strait marine area." Remediation of contaminated sediments in Esquimalt Harbour is currently undertaken whenever jetty maintenance or a new jetty is constructed. For example, sediment dredging was undertaken at the time of reconstruction of the new fuelling jetty (Colwood side) and is planned as part of a new jetty construction project in Constance Cove. I have no responsibility or jurisdiction for sediment remediation activity in the straits of Juan de Fuca.

I thank you for your questions, and I trust that the foregoing provides a satisfactory response. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at 613-996-3100 if I can be of any further assistance.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Gordon J. O'Connor, Minister of National Defence]

The Honourable Gordon J. O'Connor, PC, MP

c.c.:

The Honourable John Baird, PC, MP
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, PC, MP
The Honourable Loyola Hearn, PC, MP
Office of the Auditor General

 

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Minister's Response: Transport Canada

19 June 2007

Mr. John Newcomb
Geography Department
University of Victoria
PO Box 3050
Victoria, British Columbia
V8W 3P5

Dear Mr. Newcomb,

I am writing in response to your letter to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development seeking information surrounding information related to Transport Canada sediment investigations in Victoria Harbour and the issue of contaminated sediment migration from the Harbour to the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The Commissioner forwarded your letter to me on March 22, 2007 as an environmental petition (194) pursuant to Section 22 of the Auditor General Act. The Commissioner also forwarded your letter to my Colleagues the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of National Defence.

Transport Canada has reviewed your petition in relation to this Department's mandate and responsibilities and I am pleased to provide responses below on matters within the area of responsibility of Transport Canada.

Ql: Why has Transport Canada taken so long to release the harbour pollution studies, especially if they were well aware of the key role of such information, and that could have led Minister Penner to consider alternative origins of contamination arising from an area of federal responsibility (the two harbours), into a marine area that also has federal responsibility through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

Transport Canada's Victoria Harbour Lower and Upper Harbour Risk Assessments are now complete. These reports will be made available to the public at various libraries in the Greater Victoria area over the summer. In the fall of 2007, Transport Canada will be implementing several initiatives to communicate and discuss the results of these studies with the community.

The Victoria Harbour Lower and Upper Harbour Risk Assessments include all of the results of the harbour floor investigations and assessments conducted on behalf of Transport Canada between 2001 and 2006. The study area consists of approximately 209 ha of harbour floor within the boundaries of the Port of Victoria under the Administration and Control of Transport Canada.

The Transport Canada's Victoria Harbour Lower and Upper Harbour Risk Assessments are among the largest and most complicated risk assessments studies ever undertaken in British Columbia and are among the first such studies to attempt to understand sediment quality and associated effects on a harbour-wide basis. Unfortunately, these studies have taken longer than originally anticipated due to several factors including:

  • the highly complex technical nature of these studies;
  • the need to conduct multiple sampling events over several years;
  • our department's commitment to ensure sound scientific quality; and,
  • the lack of specific technical guidance in this area.

Transport Canada recognizes the value of this information and the importance of sharing timely information with other government agencies. Throughout this period, Transport Canada has provided information and data collected as part of its studies to various agencies including: Capital Regional District (CRD), B.C. Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Health Canada. This has included providing the results of sediment transport and sediment sampling to the CRD and submitting the sampling and analysis plans for the risk assessments to both federal and provincial agencies for review and comment. As well, Transport Canada as a member of the Victoria and Esquimalt Harbours Environmental Action Program (VEHEAP), which is a multi-agency federal, provincial and local government committee, formed to provide a forum to share and exchange information on the harbours, has provided several presentations discussing the project's methodology, on-going progress and findings.

Q2: If the Transport Canada harbour pollution studies are in fact completed, what is the substance of the studies?

Transport Canada's Victoria Harbour Lower and Upper Harbour Risk Assessments are now complete. These reports will be made available to the public at various libraries in the Greater Victoria area over the summer. In the fall of 2007, Transport Canada will be implementing several initiatives to communicate and discuss the results of these studies with the community.

These studies will indicate that there is no substantial information to suggest that migration of contaminated sediments from Victoria Harbour to the Juan de Fuca Strait. Other results of these studies will suggest the possible influx of contamination from sources in the Juan de Fuca Strait to Victoria Harbour. Such findings are supported by information from the transport and movement of sediments and the results of monitoring chemical tracers in sediments.

Q3: If any studies of the harbour contamination indicate migration of contamination sediment into the Juan de Fuca Strait region, what is the federal plan of Environment Canada and Transport Canada to mitigate the impact of such contamination of environment?

Investigations conducted by Transport Canada to-date have not provided any information to suggest that contaminated sediments from Victoria Harbour have migrated to or impacted the marine environment of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Q4: Are there any official records from the Department of National Defence of metals or chemical from operations in or around the naval base being directly deposited (through ships hull scaling or otherwise) into Esquimalt Harbour, or into the Royal Roads marine area?

Response to be provided by DND.

Q5: Is there any plan or intention by any department or agency of the federal government to direct the remediation marine environment of the Juan de Fuca Strait marine area?

Actions to initiate or direct remediation with respect to this. matter would be the responsibility of others. Transport Canada's jurisdiction in this area, in relation to the marine environment, is limited to:

  • those portions of the harbour floor in Victoria Harbour under the Administration and Control of the department;
  • those areas within the boundaries of the Port of Victoria as defined by the Canada Marine Act; and,
  • those responsibilities under the Canada Shipping Act associated with marine vessels and their operations.

The ocean floor in Juan de Fuca Strait is under the Administration and Control of the Province of British Columbia.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to Transport Canada's attention.

Yours truly,

[Original signed by Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities]

cc:

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development The Honourable Loyola Hearn, P.C., M.P.
The Honourable John Baird, P.c., M.P.
The Honourable Gordon O'Connor, P.C., M.P.