Dealing with a Crappy Problem

Human sewage and wastewater are having profound effects on the marine environment, communities and businesses surrounding Baynes Sound. That is why the Steering Committee of the Baynes Sound/Lambert Channel EcoForum organized a working session around this critical challenge.

It took place Thursday, December 1, 2022,at Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Marine Station.  

Fourty-four people representing local, regional, provincial, federal and First Nations governments, industry, and conservation groups participated in day-long session.

The Morning Session:

9:15 – 9:30 AM Find the room, settle in, grab a coffee, say hello

9:30 – 9:45 AM

Land acknowledgment /Opening and Updates from Steering Committee

9:45 -10:00AM


Contamination of Pacific oysters by human norovirus is a major impediment to sustainable shellfish farming in coastal waters of British Columbia. Human noroviruses are not marine viruses. They originate from a human source. A barrier to effective management is a paucity of data on how far human noroviruses can disperse in coastal waters of British Columbia from boats, leaking septic fields and sewer overflows. To address this limitation, Dr. Tim Green from Vancouver Island University developed a high-throughput norovirus sequencing assay to assist the epidemiological objectives of tracking specific genotypes of human norovirus through space and time in Baynes Sound. The Sound was chosen because this site is where most farmed oysters and clams are harvested in British Columbia. Data from this study suggests tidal currents can disperse human norovirus up to 15 kilometers and human norovirus persists for up to 28 days in coastal waters of British Columbia. Overlaying data from the spatial-temporal model of norovirus in sentinel oysters with sewage plume maps in Google Earth indicates that small craft harbors and urban settings pose a significant risk to shellfish farming operations in the region.



In 2018, it became illegal for vessels to dump sewage (treated or untreated) in Puget Sound, just over the Canadian border. This No Discharge Zone is part of an Action Agenda that includes investments in stormwater management, septics and agricultural runoff to improve water quality in Puget Sound. Jess Huybregts, Northwest Region Water Quality Planner with the Washington State Department of Ecology, shared how the law is being implemented  and what role public education plays in helping protect Puget’s Sound’s ecological, economic, and recreational value.  (Via Zoom)


Discussion Period

10:30 – 10:45 Break

10:45AM-11:00 AM


There are 9,000 septic systems in the rural areas of the Comox Valley Regional District. Many of them have been in operation for decades. This joint presentation by Comox Valley Regional District Manager of Liquid Waste Planning Darry Monteith and Island Health water consultant Nancy Clements presented recent analysis of septic system records in several areas surrounding Baynes Sound. The presentation also covered plans, progress and hindrances to the expansion of sewer lines in several areas around the Sound.



Denman-based hydrogeologist Steve Carballeira has years of experience with rural, residential septic systems and the people who own them.  He gave participants an insider’s view of what happens when we flush. Spoiler alert: public education is key and rehabilitation costs can seem prohibitive to homeowners.


Questions and Discussion


NOON -12:45PM

Lunch provided by SweetPea catering.



Using the information from the morning’s presentations, participants split up into break out tables to identify priorities and collaborative actions. The table discussions

  1. Industry
  2. Community
  3. Health
  4. Marine Life/Ecosystem

The Guiding Question: 

  • What can stakeholders do to address human contamination of Baynes Sound?    


Using the information from the day’s presentations and break out discussions, the group began to identify collaborative steps to improve and protect marine life in Baynes Sound. We heard that the situation is serious and multifaceted. It involves competing jurisdictions, failing infrastructure, rapid growth and needs to be measured and tracked more robustly. It was obvious that there was no easy solution although several participants identified actions that could be pursued with their organizations/departments. A small working group immediately set to work to apply for funding through a provincial stream. If successful, that money could be applied to identifying locally-based solutions.

15:00PM. Safe Travel Home

About the EcoForum

About the EcoForum The Baynes Sound Lambert Channel EcoForum is a meeting of groups with a stake in the health of the marine ecosystem in Baynes Sound and Lambert Channel. Groups include First Nations, all levels of government, industry, NGO’s, academia, and others.  Information and discussion from Forum meetings lead to a clearer understanding of issues for all stakeholders who can take this new understanding back to their organizations with recommendations for change in their area of influence.  The Forum is a catalyst for change but is not an entity unto itself. It is a connector between organizations with common interests and issues.