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LETTER – Former Comox Valley Regional District manager takes issue with septic ‘beef’

Dear editor,

In the June 30 edition of Beefs and Bouquets a reader writes to bemoan the “practically doubling” cost of septage disposal and invites the Regional District to deliver “a totally bogus spiel” explaining why they are ripping off users of septic tanks.

June 30 septic beef

I am retired now, but back in the day I was the chief operator of the sewage treatment plant and the co-author of the first septage disposal fee bylaw. Here is the “crap” on how the tipping fee is calculated.

But first, let’s get some hard numbers out of the way.

The writer states that they pump their tank every few years, so let’s assume that “few” means three. Let’s also assume that they have a 4,540 litre (1,000 gallon) septic tank. At the current rates, over the course of 3 years a city resident connected to the sewer system will pay $1,175.94. The septic tank owner will pay $258.78 to manage the wastewater generated in their residence.

The rate for disposing of septage has increased by 11.7 per cent over the past three years which is a long way from doubling. When you look all the way back to 1998 when the original rate was $0.035 per litre, the Regional District still hasn’t doubled the rate even though 23 years have passed.

So, how was the rate devised, what is the “spiel”?

I used a model for calculating septage treatment and disposal costs presented in the Water Environment Federation’s Manual of Practice #24 Septage Handling and the US EPA document Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual. These documents provided a method to fairly recover costs of debt servicing, labour, power, maintenance and disposal / reuse for both the liquid and solid streams generated while co-treating septage and municipal wastewater. Although I do not know for it for certain, I assume that the same data points (updated to the present time) are in use today.

The purpose of a treatment plant is pretty simple: dirty water comes in, solids are removed and clean water is returned to the environment. Managing the solids is the tricky part.

In the Comox Valley, domestic sewage contains about 200 milligrams per litre of suspended solids, while septage contains about 13,600 milligrams per litre of suspended solids. Depending on the parameter being measured, septage is 16 to 80 times more difficult to treat than domestic wastewater and the rates charged reflect that reality.

Readers of a certain age will recall when former Area C Director, Harold Macy, equated the annual cost to the taxpayer of acquiring Tsolum Spirit Park as being equivalent to the cost of 2 beers and a pizza. I’m not sure what beer or pizza goes for these days but the annualized cost of disposing of a household’s septage is about the same as a full tank of gas.

Graeme Faris,

General Manager of Operational Service (retired)

Comox Valley Regional DistrictLetters