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Multiple failures sending most of Greater Victoria’s treated sewage to the landfill

So far, end product of $775 million new treatment plant not being turned into bio-fuel as planned
Aerial view of the Capital Regional District wastewater program’s residuals treatment facility at Hartland. (Photo courtesy CRD)

Thousands of tonnes of Greater Victoria’s treated sewage have been landfilled this year instead of being processed and shipped to a mainland cement plant, as the region’s residuals treatment facility struggles to get up and running properly.

The facility is run by Hartland Resource Management Group at the Hartland landfill and is part of the Capital Regional District’s $775-million wastewater treatment project, built to divert the region’s raw sewage from the ocean. When operating as designed, the residuals facility should turn the largely de-watered sludge from the McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant into small, dried pellets to be burned as fuel at the Lafarge cement plant in Richmond.

But as of the end of October, less than seven per cent of the region’s treated sewage for the year has made it to Lafarge. More than 6,000 tonnes of the de-watered sludge, either as less-processed “controlled waste” or provincial Class A biosolids, have been deposited at the Hartland landfill instead.

There are a variety of reasons for this.

The Capital Regional District’s residual solids disposal from January to October 2021. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
The Capital Regional District’s residual solids disposal from January to October 2021. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

Reports for the first three months of the year aren’t public, but CRD senior manager of environmental protection Glenn Harris confirmed all residual waste was landfilled during that time.

From late April to early July, the facility’s only active digester – responsible for breaking up the residual solids or sludge – stopped working properly. Only 19 of the 3,999 tonnes produced during those months made it to the cement plant.

READ ALSO: Treated sewage bound for dump until CRD upgrades processing to required standard

Operators then discovered a particle size screening issue. Unable to meet the maximum one-centimetre diameter pellet size dictated by Lafarge, the residual treatment facility was forced to landfill hundreds of tonnes of the material from July to the end of October.

In August, a dryer malfunction caused another nearly 500 tonnes of waste to be dumped.

In addition, Harris said, unexpected plant closures by Lafarge and some cancelled ferry trips have led to lost deliveries.

The CRD doesn’t have numbers for November and December yet, but the 6,141 tonnes of sewage landfilled in 2021 through October are far greater than what was planned for.

In a fully functional year, the CRD expects to turn all residual waste into Class A biosolids, rather than the 19 per cent converted so far this year. Only 700 tonnes of those biosolids should remain at the landfill while Lafarge performs annual maintenance. Plans call for those 700 tonnes to be used as biocover to reduce landfill gas emissions, and as a sort of fertilizer to encourage plant growth in reforested areas. In 2021, just seven tonnes of biosolids were used as growth material and none were used as biocover.

READ ALSO: Capital Regional District approves land use for sewage biosolids

CRD regulatory services manager Peter Kickham said the landfilled waste shouldn’t be of concern to residents, though. While 6,141 tonnes is a large number, he said, it’s relatively small compared to the 165,000 tonnes of municipal garbage landfilled for the region each year. And, he added, all the biosolids are in a leachate containment area, so they shouldn’t pose a risk to the surrounding environment or people.

Both he and Harris said they’re hopeful operations will improve in the coming months, but neither was able to provide an exact timeline.

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