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  • Gayle Baker

Offal and Effluent. . . Learning About all Things Mucky

October 30

Eight came to our first ever ASK Salt Spring in the idyllic Foxglove Nursery greenhouse to welcome Mary Richardson, Chair of the Liquid Waste Commission as well as passionate advocate of the proposed composting facility in the Burgoyne Valley. While the numbers were small, they allowed us to learn so much about one of our most important, if not sexy, subjects: waste. We learned about offal and effluent and, yes, it was a great conversation. (Thanks, Mary!)

Mary began by offering kudos to Elizabeth White for her dedication and the many hours she and others had contributed to making the proposed composting facility a reality. She was also very appreciative of the vision and drive of Community Services and the Farmland Trust.

Hopes are to locate a composting facility at the Burgoyne Valley Community Garden (also known as the Shaw Family Community Garden). This large, 62-acre parcel of farmland has been continuously farmed since 1887 and was granted to the Farmland Trust for the benefit of the community as part of an Islands Trust amenity zoning process in 2013. In addition to providing plots for 70 families, partners are working collaboratively to produce food, increase biodiversity/pollination, and protect both species and water resources. A part of the Agricultural Land Reserve, it is located at 2232 Fulford Ganges Road. Community Services cultivates several of the 62 acres to supply its Food Bank as well as other produce needs. If this composting project is successful, it will be managed by Community Services.

Many aspects of this project have fallen into place nicely: Composting facilities have often been unpopular with neighbours given their smell and propensity for attracting rodents. A significant breakthrough came with the development of an amazing composting system, an Ecodrum,, that composts in 14 days without noise, smell, and rodents. This Ecodrum, a Manitoba product, is designed to compost large volumes of mixed organic wastes. It is very popular with farmers as a way to quickly and inexpensively convert their dead animals into useable compost. Mary showed us pictures of this EcoDrum, a sleek, totally enclosed tube, and shared her good memories of a road trip she and a team of enthusiasts took to Nanaimo to see one of these tubes in action. It is used there by a chicken farmer who saves money by converting chicken carcasses into high quality fertilizer. (Interestingly, everything converts well except chicken feet.)

The Ecodrum uses fans for airflow and a small motor to regularly turn the material and, voila, in only 14 days, the composting process is complete and the product is ready to use or sell. It comes in 11’ sections and can be expanded whenever needed.

It is predicted that, initially, Salt Spring’s most pressing needs can be addressed with only three 11’ sections, at an estimated cost of about $60,000. While it is clear that our composting needs are numerous, the initial stages of this composting project will address the needs of Country Grocer, Thrifty’s, the Abattoir, restaurants, and Lady Minto Hospital. These initial customers were determined based on the large amounts of compostable materials they regularly produce, as well as the worrisome fact that they all incur significant costs to truck this material off-island. While customers will pay for this service, the cost to them will be less than the current expensive and environmentally undesirable practice of trucking our nutrient-rich waste away rather than using it locally.

These first customers are enthusiastic and anxiously ready to begin using the Ecodrum. Country Grocer even envisions selling the compost at their store, not only addressing the problem of trucking compost away but also avoiding the costs (both financial as well as environmental) of bringing tonnes of plastic-enveloped compost here to sell.

Although there was wonderful support from the Salt Spring Island Foundation, this funding and the project had to be put on hold to allow time to work through some regulatory hurdles.

Mary credited Gary Holman with an idea that may just allow this project to proceed. He suggested - and Mary is following up - the possibility that if the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) - already supportive of this project - were to publicly affirm their approval, the Islands Trust may have all that they need to allow the project to proceed. So, Farmland Trust, Community Services Society, and those enthusiastically committed volunteers who have invested so many hours trying to bring this important service to Salt Spring are waiting patiently for the outcome of Mary’s work with the ALC.

We asked, What can we do to help? Mary responded that, in addition to crossing our fingers and toes, hearing support from Salt Springers is always helpful and welcome. She is optimistic that eventually services can be expanded, either at Burgoyne Valley and/or another more central location, to meet the needs of other businesses as well as those of individuals who cannot, for a variety of reasons, compost. Did you know that Brinkworthy residents are not allowed to compost? (Fortunately, Laurie’s, beside Country Grocer, does accept organics which are taken off island and composted.) Local support of an on-island option, like an Ecodrum, can only help. As we concluded our composting conversation, the fact that our island is trucking much of its organic waste to Vancouver Island had clearly boggled the minds of many who gathered this week for ASK Salt Spring.

This Ecodrum can also compost biosolids (human waste) but, due to a CRD bylaw, this is not currently an option. . . .and, we smoothly-transitioned to another of Mary’s areas of expertise as well as passions: reducing the cost and finding on-island beneficial uses for our liquid waste (i.e., septage and treated bio-solids). Even though federal and provincial governments allow the land application of composted, treated liquid waste, the CRD Board - responding to public pressure - passed a bylaw prohibiting the use of these Class A biosolids on any land in the CRD area.

As Chair of our Liquid Waste Commission, Mary explained how Salt Spring deals with its liquid waste: It is trucked by private haulers from residential properties and sewage treatment plants to a temporary storage in tanks in the Burgoyne Waste Treatment Facility. It is then transshipped off-island by larger trucks, at an annual cost of roughly $350,000, first to Sooke, and then on to Chemainus (away from the CRD restrictions) where it is composted and used to enrich their soil.

The costs for transshipping our liquid waste (which, as the name implies, is over 90% water) are recovered, roughly 50/50 by tipping fees at the Burgoyne facility and an island-wide parcel tax. These fees and taxes also cover the costs of $2.1 million in borrowing, approved by voters in 2008, to upgrade the Burgoyne Waste Facility.

For many years, dedicated Liquid Waste Commissions researched alternatives to the current liquid waste disposal system. A cost-effective, natural, non-mechanical reed bed was recommended by previous Commissions as a viable option. Unfortunately, there were stumbling blocks to this idea, including the CRD ban on land application of biosolids. This alternative was put on hold, and CRD staff time and resources were focused on replacing the aging infrastructure at Burgoyne with upgraded liquid waste receiving and storage facilities. This upgrade and the establishment of capital and operating reserves for the service used up much of the funding approved by referendum in 2008.

The present Commission continues to work on cost saving measures and the long term goal of finding an on-island solution for the beneficial use of our liquid waste. However, before any changes to the treatment and disposition of liquid waste at the Burgoyne site can be pursued, the old sewage lagoons that were abandoned in the 90’s need to be decommissioned. (We pictured mucky lagoons, but we were pleased to learn that they have long since reverted to soil). When the old pits are decommissioned, the Commission will then be ready to explore options for more cost effectively managing our own biosolids, preferably keeping the nutrients on island.

There is potentially some good news from CRD regarding management of biosolids: Sewage treatment residuals from the recently constructed sewage treatment plant in Victoria will be piped to Hartland and dried for beneficial re-use. Initially, the dried biosolids will be trucked to the lower mainland as an environmentally friendly energy source for cement kilns. When these kilns are down for annual maintenance, the dried biosolids will be applied on parts of the Hartland engineered landfill that are being rehabilitated with vegetation and trees. For the longer term, CRD is also considering a new anaerobic digester at Hartland that takes septage and sewage treatment residuals from Greater Victoria and produces both natural gas that will be used as an energy source, and a digestate that could be applied, possibly again as a dried product, to help rehabilitation of the landfill.

If these projects are successful, will the CRD Directors be spurred to rethink their bylaw prohibiting the use of treated waste on other CRD land, such as in Burgoyne Bay?

Stay tuned. . . .

As 1:00 approached and most of us were digesting, metaphorically :), a huge amount of new information, the conversation shifted to septic systems. We learned that CRD does provide training resources ( but most agreed that far more needs to be done so that Salt Springers with septic systems (estimated at approximately 60% of the island) have the resources to do a better job caring for these systems. Firstly we learned that we all should have our tanks pumped out regularly. (Anyone who deals with it says we have abnormally thick septage!) We also learned that, especially with the fears of COVID, flushable wipes are being used extensively and that they aren’t really flushable. They are, instead, clogging many systems. We also learned that certain brands of toilet paper are far better for our systems than others. We talked briefly about the training, support, and incentives that could dramatically reduce the too-frequent incidence of failed septic systems on Salt Spring.

Too soon, we bid a grateful farewell to Mary for her enthusiasm, hard and often frustrating work, her amazing grasp of the issues and solutions, and her honesty. Many had never met Mary but we all felt we had found a creative partner and friend in our new acquaintance. Thanks, Mary!

Interested in joining us? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering at our new location, Foxglove Nursery greenhouse this coming Friday, November 6, 2020, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m.

Sadly, Adam will not be able to join us as final counts have not yet been recorded, and he remains a private citizen until November 16. But, he has promised to begin his next term advocating for a better solution to our roads. In preparation for this conversation, this gathering will focus on our roads: Roads 101. Bring your concerns and solutions!

All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.

Social-distancing maintained and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.

No time to come to a meeting? Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We would love your receipts! Remember: #15

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