BC may fine village after two decades of wastewater non-compliance

The Village of Cumberland’s wastewater committee shows images of effluent samples during a presentation in fall 2017. Photo credit: Village of Cumberland.

British Columbia’s Village of Cumberland, which just received more than $100,000 from the provincial government for tourist projects, may be giving cash right back to the province in the form of fines for wastewater violations that date back more than two decades.

Located in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, Cumberland has a population of about 3,700. Sewage there is currently treated at a lagoon before the effluent is released into Maple Creek. It then flows into the Trent River, which in turn flows into the Baynes Sound.

According to a recent report presented to city officials by Paul Nash, the Village’s Liquid Waste Management Plan Co-ordinator, Cumberland has been out of compliance with its wastewater permit since 1999. Ministry staff made site inspections in 2012, 2016 and 2017, and issued non-compliance notices to Cumberland at those times, with the most recent notice on Feb. 21 leading to a referral for potential fines.

City staff will now meet with ministry officials on April 3.

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“There have been some actions taken on storm-sewer separation, but much work remains and the peak flow reduction targets have not been met,” Nash wrote in his report.

Since 1998, when Cumberland first started developing its Liquid Waste Management Plan, the Village has repeatedly stalled on its path and implementation. It wasn’t until 2016 that Cumberland even formed its own wastewater advisory committee, following Cumberland withdrawing from the Comox Valley Regional District’s proposed South Sewer Project, which failed in a referendum.

According to Nash’s report, Cumberland’s wastewater permit was first issued in 1967, and had a major update in 1997 that set out the existing requirements. The permit notes that Cumberland is in the process of developing a Liquid Waste Management Plan (LWMP), and allows that if the Director determined that satisfactory progress on the plan is not being made, the director could impose requirements, which have yet to be invoked, for Cumberland to develop the following: Source Control Program; Stormwater Management Plan; Sludge Wasting and Screening Disposal and Biosolids Management Plan; Inflow and Infiltration Control Program; Sanitary and Storm Sewer Separation Plan.

Nash’s report suggests the following course of action: “Central to these discussions is Cumberland’s proposed strategy (recommended to and approved by the Wastewater Advisory Committee) of moving immediately to implement upgrades to meet the Permit conditions, rather than carrying on to Stage 3 of the LWMP. Since the LWMP process does not give relief of meeting the Permit conditions, moving to immediate implementation is the appropriate and best course of action. This point will be impressed upon the ministry staff.”

According to Nash, Cumberland has been non-compliant with certain requirements of its wastewater discharge permit for several years. Specifically, he mentioned amendments to the permit in 1997 that brought requirements for phosphorus removal and disinfection.

With the change in reporting requirements in 2017 for immediate notification of non-compliance, Nash wrote that the strict interpretation is that notification should be made for each day that flow or quality criteria are exceeded, which would lead to Cumberland reporting every day. These reporting requirements under the 2017 permit amendment needs to be discussed with the ministry, he suggested.

The wastewater advisory committee will bring its recommendations for treatment upgrades to Cumberland council on April 9th.

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