The last weekend of October, I had the pleasure of visiting Canada’s beautiful West Coast.

Stepping off the plane from Toronto into Victoria’s crisp, coastal air was a welcome escape. The island was in the peak of fall, a palette of warm oranges, pinks, and reds.

On my last day in Victoria, I took a leisurely walk down Dallas Road along the Pacific Ocean. The path was alive with islanders, their hands clutching warm coffees, smiles on their faces, dogs playing around their feet. The ocean to my left stretched on as far as the eye could see; mountains, barely a shadow on the horizon, were dusted lightly with snow that hinted winter was nearly upon us.

Looking out into the ocean in this temperate paradise, it was difficult to believe that the city held a not-so-beautiful secret below its surface.

Decades of Raw Sewage Pumped Into the Ocean

Victoria is almost infamous for its controversial sewage practices. Approximately 106 million litres of screened sewage are released every day into the waters off Victoria’s harbour, along with potentially contaminated storm water. Some of the contaminants include heavy metals, bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and more.

This summer, the city seemed to be on the move to change their sewage handling procedures: the Capital Regional District (CRD) had put forth plans for a $780-million facility to treat sewage and proposed more than 40 potential sites for the plant. Unfortunately, so far, not much has progressed.

Though the relationship between sewage dumping and increased bacterial levels hasn’t been definitively proven, some researchers do think they’re related – and that levels in Victoria’s waters are increasing over time. Fecal coliform counts (the bacteria generally tested for to identify water quality at any given time) have increased over the last decade by a significant amount, and Victoria beaches regularly exceed water quality guidelines.

Working to Protect Human Health

Surfrider Vancouver Island is working hard to educate fellow islanders about this controversial issue, as well as its potential dangers to human health. Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force, a volunteer-run water testing education and advocacy program, is unique to the West Coast. The group is working to fill sampling gaps in the winter (VIHA only tests in the summer) as well as double-check summer results.

Volunteers test more than 15 different recreational sites, including 3 freshwater streams, and share this information through the Surfrider site.

They also run a number of other campaigns aimed at improving water quality and educate the island’s inhabitants. These include a campaign aimed at reducing cigarette litter along shorelines and reducing the amount of plastic bags entering the city’s waterways.

Surfrider organizes hugely popular monthly beach cleanups (a number of my friends excitedly shared their participation when I asked). And they aren’t just collecting garbage: the organization measures and records some of the data to identify the main types of pollution found on local beaches.

Victoria may have a long way to go to protect their beautiful environment, but for the time being, Surfrider is working hard to remind their fellow islanders that we all play a part in maintaining the health and beauty of our environments. Thanks for all the hard work you do, Surfrider!

Want to get involved? Check out their website.

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