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'NO!' to Sewage Effluent into Okanagan Lake - January 2020

See the attachments to this page for the SENS letter to Vernon Council, and Council's response.

Okanagan Lake is almost a closed lake, replenishing its water every 90 to 100 years. 

Whatever is put into it does not go away but accumulates over this long period. Already Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland and Penticton discharge treated sewage into the lake, adding millions of litres of effluent to the lake every DAY.

The temptation for Vernon to follow suit is obvious but should be resisted, because it is not only dangerous to the ecosystem but also to human life. Claiming that this effluent is treated almost to “drinking water standards” means nothing except that it won't kill us immediately.

What it really means is that the bacteria and heavy metals have been removed so they can meet government standards. But 50% of all drugs people take end up in urine, thus in sewage. Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) end up in sewage from our personal care products and other sources. So these pharmaceuticals, as well as pesticides and possibly other undetected toxins all remain in the treated effluent. 

Consultants have persuaded councils to pay enormous sums of money to install “state-of-the-art” treatment systems all through the city, telling them it can result in permitting discharge to the lake: out of sight, out of mind. They also claim there is no worry about the hormones or pharmaceuticals in the treated effluent because the quantity was tiny compared to the water in the lake. Wrong.

Wrong because these EDCs act in a counter-intuitive manner. Minute quantities are much more dangerous than large doses because while the body recognizes a large dose of hormone mimickers as unnatural and rejects it, it readily absorbs small doses treating them as if they were natural hormones. You can read about it in this David Suzuki article. And that happens not just in us, but in fish and aquatic animals too who are drinking, eating, breathing this polluted water. 

A very little known but important film was produced by the CBC years ago on the effect of these EDC's. It is called “The Disappearing Male” and links numerous problems mainly associated with males to the preponderance of these EDCs in our environment. These EDCs are also called obesogens because they predispose humans to obesity and have multi-generational effects.

In 2012 SENS warned Vernon in a “minority report” clarifying these facts, that the impact would be damaging and irreversible on anyone or any thing drinking or swimming in such lake water. 

Now let's look at why Vernon is now faced with the problem. Climate change is blamed, but It has been known for years that Vernon's projected growth would result in too much liquid waste to be accommodated by the MacKay reservoir. Yet ten years ago the hired consultants, Urban Systems, advised Vernon to install piping to new developments to make them part of the centralized sewage and wastewater treatment system, rather than to install stand-alone systems that would have stabilized Vernon's load and allowed communities to follow what is increasingly becoming a far better solution: eco-sanitation systems.

Centralized sewage and wastewater treatment systems are proving to compound environmental problems and to be unsustainable and costly.  SENS recommended the installation of stand alone biological eco-sanitation systems in all new development. These would have allowed these communities to deal with their wastes in more environmental and economical ways. See details on the recommendation here.

Eco-sanitation systems are being used increasingly around the world including the China-Sweden Erdos Eco-Town Project, Dongsheng, and Hillerod, Denmark (urban area pop.: 29,382; municipal pop.: 46,354) and are highly recommended by five independent research institutes: as a way to ensure food security in addition to preventing the pollution of fresh water ecosystems.

Now Vernon feels it has dealt with its problem by adding more pollution to a lake that not long ago was truly pristine. What else can they do? Ask citizens to reduce water usage? Add reservoirs? After all, Vernon lacks water in summer. One thing is certain: if Vernon does not come up with solutions now, they never will once they start discharging to the lake, because they will feel they are out of the woods and won't look for alternatives later. Yet climate change will add to this problem and will add many others that threaten existing infrastructures. 

Not all problems can be solved by dumping them in the lake. Lakes are touted by the tourism industry as “pristine”. Apparently we must be diligent in keeping them that way.

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