Editorial: Clean stream

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When it comes to how a community deals with its sewage, the adage “if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind” seems to apply.

Less than a dozen members of the public came to an open house at the Ganges Wastewater Treatment Plant last week to see the results of a $3.9-million upgrade. Perhaps people imagined the event would include a down-and-dirty tour of the physical plant and that is what kept them away. Instead, those attending got an in-depth but not graphic explanation of how the system works and what parts were upgraded and improved.

The lack of interest is surprising, though, because proper treatment and disposal of human waste is critically important to public health and that of the environment. And if you are a property owner in the sewered area, you paid the bill for upgrades that benefit everyone who flushes a toilet in Ganges.

The village of Ganges has had a sewage treatment plant for almost 34 years and a state-of-the-art one since about 1998. That is when the Capital Regional District and Ganges Sewer Commission fully implemented a cutting-edge “membrane bioreactor” (MBR) disinfection system being piloted by a company called Zenon Environmental, which it is still using. The result is effluent containing a microscopic amount of fecal coliform — about two or three units per 100 millilitres of water. (Swimming beaches in B.C. are closed to the public when the ratio exceeds 200 units; Kits Beach in Vancouver reported 65 units last week.) Combining crystal-clear effluent with the Ganges sewer outfall pipe being 4.8 kilometres long means that the CRD really couldn’t do a better job of dealing with our waste. 

Something that came up through the open house event, though, is that people still throw plastic items into toilets — feminine hygiene products, baby-wipes, etc. — and that creates a huge problem for treating our waste. Without that kind of contamination, the end product might actually have other practical uses.

As one open house attendee suggested, it’s time for a public education campaign about what not to flush down the toilet. “Out of sight, out of mind” should not be a guiding principle when we’re talking about septic waste.

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