The odours from the waste treatment plant that services the Woodland Shores community, located just west of Lake Cowichan, are too rank for many residents.
Byron Burley lives close to the Bald Mountain Waste Treatment Plant, which is owned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and currently services 132 residential properties.
He said that for years, the odour of feces and other related smells from the treatment plant have been wafting through the homes of Woodland Shores during different periods of the day and night.
He said the odours are most noticeable around dinner time and in the middle of the night when it is sometimes so bad that it wakes many residents up from their sleep.
“We’re too embarrassed to have family and friends visit out homes,” Burley said.
“With the increasing number of people in the community, the problem has progressively gotten worse, and it will only get worse again when more than another 100 homes which are planned are built in the small area.”
Burley said the residents have been complaining to the CVRD for years about the odours, and while he acknowledges the district has responded and has been doing some work towards solving the problem, the homeowners are still waiting for a “real fix” to the issue.
“We have been extremely patient with this problem and, as a community, we are owed a solution,” he said.
“The Woodland Shores community contributes around $1 million in property taxes per year, and we also pay for access to the CVRD’s water and sewer systems. I don’t know why I’m paying for sewer access if my lungs are doing the filtering. We just want to be able to eat our dinner without ingesting our neighbour’s feces.”
Brian Dennison, manager of waste management at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said that in 2019, the district installed an odour-control system that had proven success in lessening the smells at similar plants elsewhere.
He said the district has recently hired an odour monitoring and control company to sample the air through the summer for odours and air quality parameters, and then make recommendations for improvements in August.
“The consultants have a lot of expertise in waste-water plants, so we hope their recommendations will be useful,” Dennison said.
“Once we have their results and recommendations, we’ll meet with the developer to see how we can work out the financial component. Depending on what needs to be done, I would expect it could be designed and installed before next summer. Summertime is of course the most critical time because of the greater odours with higher temperatures, and higher contact due to people being outside.”
Dennison said one of the problems with the plant is that, with so many of the homeowners being there only on weekends, or as seasonal occupants, the sewage flows to the plant are highly variable, so it’s very challenging to get its systems to settle down and function consistently.
He said the plant is registered as class – A under the Ministry of Environment, which is the highest standard in the province, but due to the highly variable loading, it’s challenging to tune the plant to minimize the odours.
Dennison also said odour is a very tricky issue because there’s really no objective standard by which it can be measured.
“For noise, you can set an absolute standard and then measure it with a decibel meter,” he said.
“There’s no such equivalent for odour. Human perception of odour is enormously variable and the levels of organic compounds in the air that cause them are extremely low.”
Klaus Kuhn, the CVRD’s director for Youbou/Meade Creek which includes Woodland Shores, said he has been talking to the district’s engineering department about the issue and has been told that the department is doing all it can to deal with the odour concerns.
As for suggestions that the CVRD should take some of the taxes that are paid by the residents of Woodland Shores to help fix the problem, Kuhn said it’s not that simple.
“Regional districts are not like municipalities which collect taxes and determine where the money is spent,” he said.
“Regional districts are very limited in deciding exactly where the tax money is spent. The money is put into various functions and we can’t take one from another. We have to account to the province for every penny spent.”