Sometimes I’m a little slow to react – and sometimes so slow that I find myself commenting on history instead of what should (would) have been current affairs had I been quicker off the mark. It is a fact that since I hunkered down in the Berwick Royal Oak Residence for senior citizens 16 months ago (yes, tempus does fugit) I have quadrupled my rate of procrastination.
Thus, today, I bring you my thoughts on an event that took place a year ago in and on the waters of Puget Sound; an event which would be hilariously entertaining had it not involved a spill of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater and cost multi-millions of dollars to fix.
Readers of my blog, who reside beyond the provincial boundaries of British Columbia, may have picked up whispers from time to time that BC’s capital city, Victoria, admired for its scenic and floral beauty, disposes of its raw sewage and stormwater into the ocean which rolls between BC and Washington State.
For years, local governments and regional district authorities resisted the cries of environmentalists demanding that the disposal of raw sewage into the ocean end, and a full sewage waste-water treatment plant be built at a cost of millions of dollars. For years local government countered those protests with environmental and scientific studies and reports that the waste being piped into fast flowing deep water currents was being transformed, diluted and returned to nature with pristine efficiency.
The scientific evidence did not impress Victoria protesters. Their voices echoed across the ocean and found common cause in Seattle where USA local governments began to belittle Greater Victoria’s scientific evidence and apply economic pressure to force the building of a full treatment plant. Victoria’s economy depends heavily on tourism and negative media plus political attacks on the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean began to take their toll.
In Canada, provincial and federal governments ignored or rejected scientific studies that claimed ocean tides and currents were taking more than adequate care of any perceived problems. Local environmentalists created a symbolic mascot to wander the streets and attend public gatherings. It was an adult male made up to look like human faeces, aptly named Mr. Floatie.
There is little doubt Mr. Floatie’s vulgar presence was more appealing to an easily led public than the carefully reasoned science stating nature was already controlling the situation; that full treatment was not necessary. The threat that senior governments might withdraw heavy funding required to build the plant weighed heavily in the final equation. In September 2016, a decision was made to proceed with the project at a cost now estimated at more than a billion dollars.
In May 2017, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps accompanied Mr. Floatie to Seattle to triumphantly attend his “retirement party” after two years working for Mayor Helps, Tourism Victoria (and) their Seattle counterparts. The party was hosted by Canadian Consul General James Hill. The flight to Seattle would take the Mayor and Mr. Floatie over the site where four months earlier hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater had spewed untreated from Seattle’s West Point sewage and stormwater treatment plant.
There is no indication in the reports on Mayor Helps’ and Mr. Floatie’s flight that the site of the disastrous sewage spill was ever pointed out to them or that they ever got to meet Kim Stark, the lead quality water controller at the King County Environmental Lab. Ms. Stark had assured a concerned public that in the days immediately after the spill caused by a mechanical failure, “some monitoring categories spiked,” but that just a short time later, “everything looks typical.”
Then she significantly added: “There was a reason West Point outfall was put in the location it was. It is a perfect location [because] there are some very high bottom currents. So, the effluent goes out and kind of moves and just becomes very diluted very quickly.” Which is why in very short order after the West Point outfall disaster occurred “everything was back to normal” – which is exactly what the scientists and environmental engineers had been saying was happening with Greater Victoria’s sewage disposal since the great debate began.
But the people ignored the science and the logic and followed instead the advice of a piece of … well, maybe best not to go there.