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Municipal sewage-treatment facility on banks of Cowichan River once again cited for violations

The Duncan-North Cowichan sewage-treatment facility on Marchmont Road has once again been cited by the province for a slew of environmental infractions, a review of provincial compliance-and-enforcement files by reveals.

In a non-compliance letter to the Duncan-North Cowichan Joint Utilities Board dated Mar. 9, 2023, the province documents exceedances related to phosphorus, biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, toxicity, pH, and total chlorine residual limit.

The inspection assessed compliance for the period of April 2020 to February 2023. North Cowichan operates the facility on behalf of the two municipalities.

During the inspection, Ministry of Environment staff also learned that during two periods of heavy rainfall North Cowichan staff bypassed the outfall by pumping effluent directly to the Cowichan River in order to prevent overflows.

The ministry was told that sludge does not need to be removed from the facility because it is treated with “Acti-Zyme,” a product that improves breakdown and digestion of built-up sludge in waste-water systems. The ministry searched its electronic files and found no approval for the use of Acti-Zyme for sludge management at the facility.

The facility also failed to meet a requirement to erect a sign along the alignment of the outfall above high-water mark, identifying the nature of the works. The wording and size of the sign requires the approval of the regional waste manager. Municipal staff explained “that the water levels around the outfall sign rise significantly during the fall and winter months, and that if the sign were to be left in place during that time it would be damaged or destroyed.”

The ministry said the facility failed to have an Operational Plan as required providing details for the "proper operation and maintenance of sewage conveyance, treatment, disposal and reclaimed water use facilities, including the monitoring details.”

The facility also failed to conduct substrate and river water sampling and analysis as required.

The municipality said in response that the province takes a "very stringent approach to compliance limits based on a single exceedance" constituting non-compliance and that a "treatment plant can have good results every day of the year except for one day and will be deemed out of compliance.

"What is more indicative of the performance of a facility is how frequently the effluent is compliant. Staff monitors for seven different parameters in the treated effluent. Based on samples taken over the last 19 years, of the 4,296 samples gathered, 4,234 (or 98.6%) complied with the regulations. This is an extremely good compliance rate. When non-compliance events occurred, they were generally within 20% of the compliance limits and were preceded and followed by samples within the compliance limits.”

The non-compliance letter:

Earlier violations:

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— Larry Pynn, March 28, 2023


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