Metro Vancouver’s sewage control system is just “basic,” one level below the highest category of “effective.” That was a finding of a report last February by its internal audit branch, obtained by the Courier through the freedom of information law.
The AUDIT was done to assess how well “source control activities” were doing to prevent some pollutants, the sort that can’t be effectively treated through Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment process, from entering the sewer system.
The report listed seven “key risks of not having an effective Source Control Program.” These include a failure to meet environmental regulations, the deterioration of the local environment, industry discharging more hazardous waste, more money spent upgrading sewers, lower quality biosolids, more human health concerns, and public unawareness on how best to discharge waste to sewers.
More positively, the auditors found that Metro Vancouver has an up-to-date sewer use bylaw and well established regulations and enforcement.
Metro Vancouver, and its member municipalities, is responsible for conveying and treating sewage from residential, governmental and industrial sources. The discharge is moved through sewer mains to be treated at one of five regional wastewater treatment plants, and the system is regulated by provincial and federal laws. Last year, Metro had 200 industrial liquid waste active permits, and 98 per cent of the holders were found to be in compliance.
To help comply with the rules, many jurisdictions have “source control programs.” The programs’ purpose is to protect human health, safety and the environment, protect the sewers from damage, promote cost savings and promote quality biosolids. (Formerly called sludge, biosolids are the microbes, bacteria and fungi that are created when sewage is treated.)
“We look at the source of the problem and see if it makes more sense to stop it at source rather than just building a bigger and better waste water treatment plant,” said Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s environmental enforcement manager.
The audit had some advice. Metro should do an updated assessment of the source of contaminants, metals (such as molybdenum and zinc), and flows that enter the wastewater system. It should lobby the B.C. government for the power to issue tickets to better enforce the sewer use bylaw, and raise the industrial permit fees and fines for bylaw violators. The authors advised re-evaluating the Restaurant Code of Practice, with a new strategy to better enforce it, especially on “grease issues.”
“All of the recommendations have either been done or are well under way,” said Robb. “A new restaurant grease trap regulation is going to the Metro board this month for consideration. We have lobbied the provincial government several times regarding ticketing and maximum fines. They are supportive but advise that nothing is likely to happen until after the election.”
Just two of Metro’s five wastewater treatment plants (Lions Gate and Iona Island) are not yet able to perform secondary treatment, but Metro will soon enable them to do so. Metro is planning to meet the water and sewage needs of 800,000 more people by 2025.