Story 8 – Collaborative Futures

As Bamfield’s population has grown and the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre has evolved and expanded, so has the need for advanced wastewater treatment. That need is one shared by the local community. So in 2018, The Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) and Bamfield Marine Science Centre (BMSC) signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to build a new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Groundbreaking for the joint project was celebrated in 2020, with a grand opening in 2022. The new plant represents a successful 10-year collaboration between Huu-ay-aht First Nations and BMSC. Both are committed to promoting community health and development while protecting environmental integrity. The project strengthens BMSC’s long-term relationship with the Huu-ay-aht, who are active partners in BMSC research and education programs. The WWTP represents BMSC’s continuing commitment to reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous peoples.

More people bring more waste. And when BMSC was first established 50 years ago, it treated its human waste by installing an aeration-type sewage plant purchased second-hand from the Franklin River logging camp. “It worked really well,” says Brad Anholt, who was BMSC’s director from 2009 to 2017[LEO1] . Consultants had periodically checked on it, and despite its rusty framework, the system continued to work for decades. Nearly fifty years on, however, “it was on its very last legs,” says Anholt.

Pollution from wastewater had been a growing problem in the area. In summers of the early 2000s, Vancouver Island Health had detected elevated fecal coliform counts in Bamfield and adjoining Grappler Inlets. During this era, fecal coliform levels exceeded shellfish consumption and recreational use guidelines, leading to a public health advisory and shellfish bed closures. The writing was on the wall – or rather – on the seashore. More effective wastewater treatment was needed to protect marine ecosystems and public health. 

Aerial view of Bamfield Inlet.

BMSC’s need to upgrade its antiquated system coincided with a desire by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) to upgrade their sewage system too. In the early 2000s, the HFN had begun seeking locations for installing new infrastructure. Engineers explored the feasibility of an outfall flowing into Pachena Bay, adjacent to the Huu-ay-aht village of Anacla. However, this was deemed impractical due to high-energy winter storms on this exposed coastline.

The HFN needed to find a suitable site elsewhere.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations Chief Councillor Robert Dennis (Mike Youds photo).

“We needed a place where the outfall would go,” says HFN Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. (Emchayiik). So with BMSC, “we entered into a dialogue, and from there, it grew,” he says. 

“That was the beginning of developing a new relationship that’s strengthened over time,” says Dennis. 

Through a series of planning meetings, consultations and negotiations, BMSC land was chosen to provide the site and outfall for the WWTP. “That just made good sense,” says Anholt. As for the WWTP building footprint, the site was planned at a spot BMSC had used as an old scrap yard for storing boats. So, to build the new infrastructure, “it wasn’t like we were cutting down old growth trees,” says Anholt. 

Huu-ay-aht First Nations, BMSC, and representatives from the McElhanney engineering firm and Industra construction company gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony on the building site for the new WWTP On October 6, 2020. Construction then began. After completion, a grand opening ceremony for the WWTP plant was held on April 22, 2022. 

Now, says Anholt, compared with the old system, the new WWTP produces much cleaner water and releases treated effluent a 350-metres further out compared with the former sewage outfall. Treated waste now flows out beyond Bamfield Inlet to Trevor Channel, and when necessary, excess screened solids and sludge will be trucked to Port Alberni. 

The system uses a moving bed biofilm reactor, a technology developed in Norway in the 1980s. This secondary treatment involves separating waste solids, UV disinfection, a screen plant and floating media to maximize reactor tank aerobic activity. The system also includes odour control. Follow-up testing and ongoing monitoring will ensure the system operates safely and effectively. 

A critical aspect of the new WWTP is its modular design. “it’s got room to grow,” says Anholt. As the populations of Bamfield and Anacla increase, the WWTP can add additional treatment chambers. The system will serve BMSC, HFN, and Bamfield Community School.

Digging the pipeline up the hill at BMSC, 2021.
Pipeline ditch along the BMSC foreshore to the current outflow pipe, 2021.

“It took almost ten years from start to finish to get the agreement finalized,” says current BMSC director Sean Rogers. The process prioritized trust and mutual respect. 

“We have this amazing partnership now,” says Rogers, who adds that BMSC and HFN are now working hard to bring another long-needed service to the community – a high school. 

Dr. Sean Rogers, BMSC Director, 2019

“To me, this is what reconciliation should look like,” says Anholt.
“It’s not words. It’s infrastructure and deeds and shared ownership and shared governance.” 

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