Today, a piece of Lumby’s history has reared its head and it is poised to become the front and centre issue for a Council that has yet to embrace the ramifications that are set to emerge.
The pivotal date in this story begins in 1972 a year when Trudeau was Prime Minister; Dave Barrett was Premier of BC; Canada launched the world’s first non-military satellite into space; and Paul Henderson scored the “goal of the century” to give Canada the hockey win over the Soviet Union.
1972 was also the last time that the Village of Lumby had a new sewage treatment plant. Forty years later that treatment plant can no longer sustain the village population and there are reports that the Village appears to be in “non-compliance” with regards to sewage discharges into Bessette Creek.
The BC Ministry of Environment (MOE) allows for the direct discharge of sewage into Bessette Creek on an Emergency Permit but it seems that Lumby has been regularly discharging directly into the creek, possibly because it’s facing an emergency situation all the time. There are indications that the treatment facility has been releasing effluent, possibly in non-compliance of environmental permits since 2009.
Sewage containing fecal coliform, all sorts of pharmaceuticals as well as bacteria and viruses are entering Bessette Creek, a salmon stream, and then that waste spreads into the Shuswap River and Mabel Lake. The situation has now become unmanageable and the village has been forced to engage in a solid waste management plan process.
For the past few years there has been a nervousness in many community circles that there was something wrong with the sewage treatment facility, however during the prison debate and even during the last civic election, Mayor Kevin Acton and the past Council insisted that the sewage treatment plant was safe, in compliance, and could sustain a growing population, at least for the short term.
They appear to have been wrong.
When that information was being told to the public, the village had been dumping sewage into Bessette Creek at volumes that may have been deemed to be unacceptable by the Ministry of Environment.
At this most recent Village Council meeting, when council invites questions from the public, I asked them directly if they were in “compliance” with regards to sewage discharges into Bessette Creek.
There was some hesitation but I was told by Council that “the village was in compliance”.
I then suggested that they make a public statement about the village liquid waste management situation. I added that the issue had become so complicated that the Mayor and Council needed to educate the public as to what went wrong, and how things are going to get fixed.
Again they reacted with some hesitation, but at the end thought it would be a good idea.
I’m asking for that public statement because I believe that there remains a question as to whether the village is in fact “in compliance” with provincial and federal regulations, or if “compliance” means rules are being bent in order to deal with a problem that has gotten out of hand. But this is the very tip of the iceberg and I hope Council will set the record straight and deal with what may in fact be an environmental and fiscal crises inside and outside of the village.
It is uncertain as to when the sewage discharge problem became known to Council, but unconfirmed reports have the issue emerging in 2009 when MLA Eric Foster was Mayor of Lumby. In 2011, Mayor Kevin Acton repeatedly stated that the sewage system was sufficient for the village’s needs.
The village has hired consultants from Urban Systems to manage a planning and problem solving process in order to deal with an “order for compliance” issued by the provincial government. If the village does not comply with the planning program, the government may cancel its solid waste management permit.
Currently Urban Systems will be paid approximately $94,000 for the first part of a three phase program that will be rolled out over the next three years. In 2013, the village has earmarked another $80,000 for Phase 2 in its budget, yet in a line item that appears associated with the phase there is $191,000 indicated as a “stand by actual”; similarly in 2014, for Phase 3 there is $80,000 earmarked in the financial plan but $161,000 indicated as a “stand by actual”.
It is uncertain as to whether the “stand by actual” represents the total amount required to pay for the contracted services with the hopes that the village will secure external funding to cover at least part of that cost.
If that external funding support doesn’t materialize, local taxpayers will be on the hook for a bigger bill. It appears as though the planning project will cost a total of $446,000 over three years, however none of these funds represent capital expenditures required to repair the actual problem of discharges into the creek.
Village council needs to ask, if the planning component requires nearly a half a million dollars, how much will the actual “fix” cost?
If the planning and consultant fees represent 10 percent of the total cost of a new liquid waste facility and system then taxpayers might be faced with a $4-5 million dollar capital works bill – which might be expected considering the present sewage system is well past its due date.
This set of emerging essential expenditures should cause any council to put the brakes on spending. Council has already learned that its water utility has less than adequate financial reserves. Taxpayers should now revisit the Village Financial Plan in order to carefully examine why the water and sewage situation has turned sour; how much will it cost to fix the problems; and when.
History has exposed that there is much that can go wrong with a 40 year old sewage system and the question that needs to be asked is, “Why wasn’t it upgraded or replaced before it became an environmental hazard?”
There continues to be a lack of information about what is actually happening with liquid waste and why these discharges into the creek are taking place. If it began happening in 2009 then there’s already been three years of an effluent problem; with another three years of planning that accepts the temporary continuation of discharges - this adds up to 6 years of questionable discharges into a salmon bearing creek.
This issue will no doubt come under examination by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and they may require stop gap measures that could swell the costs of solving this problem.
Regardless of the various regulations and protocols that exist within this issue, there is a higher power at work here governed by the laws of nature. Just how much damage have we done to our local ecosystems as a result of these sewage discharges?
How much damage have we done to ourselves and our neighbors?
We need to address the realities of this problem so that we can collectively get a handle on solving it. However, the first step required is for the Village Council to come clean on the issue – publicly.