After years of consultations and studies, the Joint Utilities Board is considering a number of options for the route for the new pipe from its sewage treatment plant near Duncan to the proposed new outfall location in Satellite Channel, outside of Cowichan Bay.
At North Cowichan’s council meeting on Oct. 21, Clay Reitsma, the municipality’s senior manager of engineering, said there are four options for the area where the underground pipe could travel and enter Cowichan Bay before heading to the new outfall site, which will be located near Separation Point in Satellite Channel.
Those sites are on Westcan Terminal Road, Sutherland Drive, Seaside Road and the Hecate Park boat launch.
Reitsma told council that there are still a number of assessments and studies to be completed, and the public must be engaged to allow input, before a final decision for the approximately 13-kilometre pipe is made.
“We need to consult the public on the terrestrial and marine pipeline routes under consideration, and the public engagement is planned for mid-November through to the end of January,” he said.
“We’re also having ongoing consultations with local First Nations.”
The Joint Utility Board’s sewage treatment plant is a hybrid secondary/tertiary treatment plant that treats wastewater from North Cowichan, Duncan, Cowichan Bay, Eagle Heights and Cowichan Tribes.
The plant, located on Cowichan Tribes lands, is operated by North Cowichan and discharges highly treated effluent into the Cowichan River.
From there, the effluent flows down the river and through the ecologically sensitive Cowichan estuary into Cowichan Bay.
This project, which Reitsma estimated to now cost up to $42 million, will relocate the outfall from the river to a deep-sea site in Satellite Channel, which has considerably more dilution for the effluent.
The change has been prompted by several years of severe drought that have drastically reduced summer flows in the Cowichan River, leaving some of the diffusers that dilute wastewater coming from the Joint Utilities Board’s sewage lagoons high and dry.
A lease agreement with Cowichan Tribes for the land where the treatment plant is located includes a commitment to move the outfall from the river by 2021.
The proposed new outfall location was identified following scientific studies, consideration of traditional ecological knowledge and consultations with local First Nations.
North Cowichan councillor Kate Marsh asked Reitsma if there are any other options than to pipe the effluent from the sewage plant into the ocean, where it could have adverse impacts on the environment and human health.
Reitsma said the effluent is disinfected before it leaves the plant, and the plant’s procedures comply with permit regulations.
“We’ve had 70 years of discharging effluent at this location and, after many tests, Cowichan Bay does not show any evidence of substances (related to the plant) in the water or soil,” he said.
Mayor Al Siebring said that some say there were a lot more fish in Cowichan Bay before the sewage outflow was placed in the river 70 years ago, and the drop in fish populations are tied to the outflow.
Reitsma said that connecting the outflow to the drop in fish populations is just speculation, and he doesn’t believe the view holds any merit.
“Our studies indicate that the effluent would be hardly noticeable within metres of the pipe’s outflow in the bay,” he said.
“The effluent is highly treated at the plant.”