The response, in brief as I interpret it, is wholly contingent on whether or not Sooke can secure the full $27.1 million grant we're seeking from the federal government's Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program's Environmental Quality (EQ) Program. If yes, at least two-thirds of folks are in favour of a strategy that would see expansion east to Kaltasin to start, followed by servicing in Whiffin Spit. Support declines if we get partial funding and bottoms out if we're snubbed entirely. The decision is expected this time next year.
Any which way, moving ahead is also entirely contingent on approval via a local area petition process exclusively involving residents who'd be getting the new service and dealing with the resultant sticker shock (My fingers-crossed optimistic guess: We'll be okayed for the $8.7m that would enable the Kaltasin expansion and asked to be patient about funding for the remainder of a master plan that likely won't be built out for several decades. Which is entirely what District planning documents, which identify phases but not timelines, recommend.)
The surveys affirm the OCP-certified (and shared by us all, surely) importance of protecting and upgrading the environmental health of the Sooke harbour. Yet per-household cost is a serious concern for many in these unpredictable and inflationary times. (Without a grant, the cost would be a one-time $33k per home plus $2k per year ongoing in Whiffin Spit; $28k + $1.5k per year for Kaltasin. Halve those costs with a partial grant, and cut them by 70% with a full grant.)
The Kaltasin cohort largely agrees with the District's 2010 Liquid Waste Management Plan - Sanitary that the top priority is eastward expansion their way to serve T'Sou-ke IR1, SD #62 schools and the mix of residential, industrial and commercially zoned land. (CRD water quality monitoring reports confirm that the main pollution hotspots are clustered at the mouth of the Sooke River and nearby in the harbour.)
The Whiffin Spit gang are generally less enthusiastic, citing concerns about too much potential resultant development along with satisfaction with functional, well-maintained septic systems. The CRD marine reports also largely confirm this. They're issued every four years. The 2017 edition is too large to attach here, so email me at email@example.com if you'd like a copy. The latest is due later this year. (Read appendix G of the What We Heard report for a particularly substantial reply from the Austins Place Strata group, which concludes: "The District should not rush to proceed with a half-planned project because a grant is available. We fully support Council’s plan to address water contamination sourced from the long-identified “hot spots,” but not to Whiffin Spit. We also encourage Council to take the other actions outlined in the LWMP to prevent boat effluent and farm animal wastes from being discharged into the Sooke Harbour." )
The District's Q&A report (pg. 5) details the next steps:
"If the District of Sooke is successful with its grant application, the District will proceed with establishing a Local Area Service including a Loan Authorization Bylaw through a Petition Against process. This process provides an opportunity for those not in support of the expanded sewer service to express their opposition. If at least 50 percent of owners representing at least 50 percent of the assessed value of land identified in the area (Whiffin Spit and Kaltasin are independent service areas) sign the petition against, then the new service for the area will not be created and the project will not proceed.
At this time, if the District is not successful with its grant application, it is unlikely we will continue to explore sewer service expansion in these areas; however, this is a conversation we are interested in continuing with property owners at the Project Open Houses" (which are to be scheduled in-person and online this summer)
Quick reads: District's current Sewer System website page + Royal Flush: Behind the Scenes at Sooke's Wastewater Treatment Plant (Kevin Laird, Sooke News Mirror)
And now from the More Than You Ever Wanted to Know Dept.
The District's first OCP (adopted Aug. 12, 2002) notes that "Sooke has very little in the way of hard services such as storm and sanitary sewers. In 2000, the District commissioned the Village Sewerage Study to provide a preliminary design and cost estimate of a system of sewage collection, treatment and disposal for the commercial core ... A sewer system helps to prevent pollution problems associated with inadequate or poorly maintained on-site systems. It also allows for greater density. In the long run, sewers will help to achieve the form of development suggested in this Plan, rather than the more sprawling form of development that occurs where services are limited. A better quality of building and economic benefits should result as more efficient use is made of a limited land supply. Revitalization of the Town Centre should become more achievable." (pg. 50; not available online.)
An awesomely detailed Water Quality Assessment and Proposed Objectives for Sooke Watersheds, Inlet, Harbour and Basin Technical Report, released by the BC Ministry of the Environment in 2019, identifies multiple then-and-now sources of water pollution in local waters. "The primary concern with regards to potential impacts on water quality in Sooke Inlet/Harbour/Basin are associated with anthropogenic activities, specifically failing septic fields and rainwater runoff carrying contaminants from the freshwater streams and stormdrains into the marine waters (Cameron and Green, 2007; CRD, 2008; Environment Canada, 2005; Cross, 1996; CRD, 2010; CRD, 2011; CRD, 2012; CRD, 2013)."
Also of concern is residual "legacy impact" marine pollution from resource industries -- "marine aquaculture operations (two salmon net pen operations), fish processing and forestry operations (log storage and booming and wood treatment by Lamford Forest Products Ltd. on Goodridge Peninsula)" -- now embedded in marine soil.
From a literal s***show in the early '00s (fecal coliform-show, to be accurate), the District cleaned up its act and the harbour with it by contracting with Edmonton-based EPCOR to build a modern sewer and secondary-treatment system serving what's known as the Sewer Specified Area (effectively the town centre and environs.) Construction began in 2004 and was completed in November of the following year. Domestic and commercial connections began shortly thereafter and have continued ever since as new homes are added in the SSA.
As legislatively required, the District then produced a series of stormwater, rainwater and sanitary Liquid Waste Management Plans (LWMP) during the period 2007-10 for use as short and longer-range planning documents.
Council led by Mayor Evans wanted to extend what it clearly rated as a successful relationship with EPCOR into the 2030s. This sparked an election-year group called Fair Sewer Services for Sooke led by future Mayor Wendall Milne, former/future councillor Rick Kasper and then-and-soon-reelected councillor Herb Haldane. They opposed the 21-year pact on the grounds that no opportunity for competitive bids had been issued to other operators and that small towns like Sooke had successfully proven they could cost-effectively manage treatment plants and associated systems independently.
In response, council opted for an Alternative Approval Process inviting registered voters to weigh in. In the same July 6, 2011 News Mirror issue that contains a front-page story about the District's then-new anti-bullying and harassment policy (triggered by one unnamed councillor's behaviour), it was reported that 2,036 voters (more than one in five of us back then) were against the long-term deal. (if you click on that News Mirror link, by all means visit the letters page and watch the sparks fly as they routinely did in what was then a wide-open letters section.)
A series of one-year contracts with EPCOR ensued until the District brought operations in-house in March, 2016. Staff (I discover in close perusal of minutes of that period; I was in the audience that night, scribbling notes yet frankly rather clueless about all this, which I remain to some significantly smaller yet still life-long learning degree) presented a Sewer Services Area Report on Oct. 10, 2017 in response to a council "feasibility study request for the future expansion of wastewater services to areas outside the current SSA."
Council discussion that night revolved around: i) Cost of the study; ii) current vs. future capacity of the plant and system; iii) required upgrades to the existing system; iv) the need for examination of future expansion and efficiencies; and v) review of the current SSA system's connections + pre-bought capacity (a matter to be raised later in the year by Bedrock Developments landowner Les Monnington viz. the gravity-fed future sewer tie-ins he'd pre-purchased in 2003 for his 2119 Charters Rd. property, originally pegged for a mobile-home park until the District unveiled its connector-route ambitions ~ which, as you know, failed at the first hurdle with the Jan. 2005 referendum defeat and have now been revitalized in the all-systems-go 2020 Transportation Master Plan. Tthe servicing hadn't been provided, District staff told Mr. Monnington, due to unexpectedly high installation costs that can only be met once the connector route is greenlighted and Development Cost Charges flow in.)
System upgrades have been identified and undertaken since. A new centrifuge was installed to improve the system by which waste products are wrung dry and sent as biosolids to the Hartland Landfill. Major work has been done on "inflow and infiltration" issues by which groundwater enters sanity (day after edit: Freudian typo likely due to the length of this entry ~ I mean 'sanitary', sorry folks but these matters are necessarily complicated and not for the faint-of-gut) sewers through broken pipes and manholes (the cause of over-capacity during heavy rains.) More on pg. 34/35 of Sooke's latest Annual Report.
Under the user-pay model, the District is anticipating $3m in sewer revenues this year (85% of it from sewer parcel taxes paid by homeowners utilizing the system). Those of us outside the SSA contribute nothing to its upkeep, but we do have to invest in maintaining our respective septic fields. (I think the District should/could make a commitment to reminding/educating homeowners about best practices as per these CRD and Province of BC guidelines.)
Total annual sewer operating costs are currently $2.8 million with an additional $450k going towards the long-term sewer debt ($3 million still outstanding on a Municipal Finance Authority loan that matures in 2026). A Sewer Reserve Fund with $1.7 million as of the start of the year is available for repairs and maintenance of the existing system (not future expansion).
Into the Present
With the current plant stretched to the max on heavy storm days and operating at 70% capacity most of the year, the current council revisited the Liquid Waste Management Plan and authorized staff to seek grant funding that would add a planned third (of a maximum four) treatment tanks to the plant just east of Woodside Farm. This would increase capacity a further 50% and prepare for community growth over the next decade and more.
Premier Horgan delivered the good news on July 19, 2021; the construction schedule aims to complete the expansion in late 2023. Concurrent with this, the sewer will be hooked into T'Sou-ke IR2 adjacent to the plant (as approved by council in 2017.)
Knowing extra capacity was now guaranteed, District staff developed an ambitious four-phase master plan based on the OCP's environment-first values and LWMP recommendations. (i.e., like the connector route blueprints, this is another shovel-ready document that the District has ready for current and future grant opportunities. Best-practice strategizing, in other words, in an era when Ottawa and the province are investing unprecedented sums in infrastructure expansion.)
Sooke Liquid Waste Management Plan - Stage Three: Sanitary (2010) features the future-looking implementation plan. Expansion to Kaltasin (the #1 recommendation) and Whiffin Spit North (#2, with an option for all of the Spit) are detailed in these sections:
- Discussion Paper 1 - section 3.1 - "Considerations For Adding New Sewered Areas To the District of Sooke Sewer Specified Area"
- Discussion Paper 7 - section 3.10 - "Priority Assessment For Sewering Catchment Areas In the District of Sooke"
- Recommendations - section 7.1
A key paragraph under recommendations (pg. 7.2) that effectively authorizes future expansion (pending, as can't be said enough, affected resident approval) states: "The District commits to the preferred order of catchment areas to be included in the SSA in the future. The preferred order of catchment areas could vary based on on-going environmental monitoring activities and the priorities of the District. At this point, of the two highest ranked candidate areas, Whiffin Spit North and Kaltasin, the Kaltasin area is the preferred candidate for the next expansion of the Sewer Specified Area (SSA)."
The Four-Phase Master Plan.
Phase 1: Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion
Phase 2A: Kaltasin Expansion Area ($8.7 million expansion priority #1)
Phase 2B: Whiffin Spit Expansion Area ($16 million expansion priority #2)
Phase 3: WWTP expansion fourth basin (final possible expansion at the current site)
Phase 4: Future expansion east of Kaltasin (highly unlikely given the CRD's sprawl-averse Regional Growth Strategy focus on compact and complete communities.)
This phased approach is detailed in the Dec. 13, 2021 council agenda (see. pp. 173-242, and the infographics below). The agenda also includes project assessments from Urban Systems and Stantec along with details about a public engagement process that reached its latest stage with yesterday's release of the resident feedback report.
Council voted unanimously that pre-Christmas night to approve a conditional borrowing bylaw that would fund the District's share (up to $6.9 million) of the project costs exceeding the (up to) $27.1 million the District hopes to secure from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program's Environmental Quality (EQ) Program. This federal/provincial funding program supports capital infrastructure projects related to drinking water, stormwater, solid waste management, soil remediation and, pertinent to our case, "treatment and management improvements for waste water."
Repeating myself again by saying decisions on who gets what from the $270m (BC's share) total funds are anticipated next spring. We can expect one of the following funding outcomes: i) Full; ii) Partial; iii) Sorry, better luck next time. Given that Sooke's ask represents fully 10% of total available program funds, and knowing that we're surely not alone in seeking a piece of this pie, then a best optimstic bet is option ii ~ partial funding that would trigger a voter assent process to approve or deny the Kaltasin phase.
Still Further Background
- Related paragraph in Sooke's CRD Regional Growth Strategy statement (2020): "Access to clean, safe drinking water to all residents within the District of Sooke is a long-term intention of the OCP to address environmental issues, fire suppression, agricultural sustainability, and public health. The extension of sewers throughout the Community Growth Area to protect the environment is encouraged."
~ From the 2010 Official Community Plan (pg. 143/44)
"Sewer: The Sooke wastewater collection and treatment system is owned by the District of Sooke and operated by EPCOR Water Services Inc. The District of Sooke and EPCOR entered into a 5-year fixed price agreement to provide operation and maintenance of the sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant. The contract with EPCOR expired in June 2009 and options to renew are being explored. Construction of the collection system and wastewater treatment plant began in 2004 and the system was commissioned in November 2006. Initial individual and domestic hook ups began in January 2006 through until August 2007 and are ongoing in the sewer specified areas (SSA).
The project consists of a 27 kilometre (km) collection system, 3 lift stations and a secondary wastewater treatment facility. A 4th lift station was added to accommodate the Sunriver development. Secondary sewage treatment removes 90% [now up to 95% thanks to plant improvements] of the total suspended solids and high levels of other contaminants, which provides significant environmental benefits.
System statistics include the following:
- 27 km long collection system (not including Sunriver addition);
- 1.7 km long, 30 metre deep outfall;
- Sequential Batch Reactor Secondary Treatment Process with UV disinfection;
- Capacity peak design of 3,000 m3/day, expandable by an additional 3,000m3/day through the addition of two SBR basins and a third digester component; and
- Servicing core area of 5,500 residents."
~ Lower Sooke River Watershed Management Plan (1999 Environment Canada/Royal Roads University study on how local pollution from DeMamiel Creek was leading to T'Sou-ke shellfish harvesting closures in the basin.) One of its conclusion: "Sooke does not have a municipal sewer system. The town relies mainly on septic systems to dispose of human waste. Many areas within Sooke support high-density septic system regions. Community based education, aimed at improving septic system care and maintenance, may promote cleaner waterways and ocean shorelines in and around the community of Sooke."
~ Borrowing Bylaw (2003) that enabled construction of the sewer
~ EPCOR contracted to build Sooke sewer system; sampling of its annual reports: 2012 + 2014
~ Sewage Pipeline Provides Home for Rare Sea Life (Globe & Mail, 2008)
~ Sooke Ends Contract with EPCOR (March, 2016; Victoria Times Colonist + Sooke News MIrror)
From my Facebook page, July 20, 2021
"Sooke's managed growth and environmental health received the necessary fiscal love yesterday with Premier Horgan's announcement that we'd won another grant lottery -- in this case $4.6 million from the Investing in Canada Green Infrastructure program to pay three-quarters of the cost for a 50% expansion of our Waste Water Treatment Plant. (The District will cover the rest via a $1.9 million long-term loan from the Municipal Finance Authority.)
The plant was designed for double its current size, and this first-stage expansion will accommodate growth patterns to be identified in the new Official Community Plan and the forthcoming update of the Liquid Waste Management Plan. The latter's top priorities a decade ago were Whiffin Spit North and expansion east across the Sooke River to Kaltasin so as to service T'Sou-ke IR 1, the two schools, industrial lands and, not least, residential areas with their barely above-sea level and sometimes failing septic systems.
The expansion will boost the water quality of the harbour and basin, already vastly improved from its high coliform-count state pre-sewer in the early ‘00s. In fact, it’s expected to be clean enough for renewed shellfish harvesting and the return of the once abundant Olympia oyster to local waters.
It's also a necessary prelude to once aspirational, now increasingly tangible plans by both Sooke and T'Sou-ke to jumpstart economic activity on serviced commercial/industrial land that will host local jobs as we redirect the commuter tide, cut GHG transportation emissions (6.1 tonnes of C02e per year per ICE car making the roundtrip to Victoria) and build more of a complete, connected community.
Timeline: Design phase begins in September; contract tendering next summer; completion by end of 2023. First new link will be to connect T'Sou-ke IR2 along Wright Road as approved in 2017 (i.e., Whiffin Spit North).
So yes, good news for the bottom line that smells surprisingly sweet given the source material."
(see enlargeable versions of these two infographic maps on pp. 190/191 of the Dec. 13, 2021 council agenda)