WINNIPEG — Those wondering what Winnipeg will do with tonnes of sewage sludge in the city were disappointed at a public forum tonight.
"To me there are so many red flags in this own vision, this whole process, that all the citizens of Winnipeg should be concerned," said St. Norbert farm owner Louise May. "if we don’t get our s--- together, then I would say our ability to meet our future needs is going to be greatly reduced."
Winnipeg’s three sewage treatment plants produced approximately 13,500 dry tonnes of biosolids in 2012. The city expects to increase production to 23,000 tonnes by 2037, according to the city.
Not everyone was as blunt as May or as critical, but many questioned the need for more research to rid sewage of pathogens, organic waste and a cocktail of chemicals and inevitable prescription drugs flushed down our toilets and down our sinks along with human waste.
Others wondered how the city was going to meet a deadline that is just months away. The city must submit a master sewage disposal plan to Manitoba Conservation in October.
Biosolid material, commonly known as sewage sludge, is the nutrient-rich end-product of sewage treatment. Biosolids contains significant quantities of organic nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as trace amounts of minerals that are beneficial for plant growth.
Prior to 2011, the city would distribute a good portion of its biosolid material into agriculture land. Concern over Lake Winnipeg, coupled with provincial regulations for biosolid dumping on farm land, slowed the practice, forcing the city to store its biosolid material at the Brady Landfill.
The city will spend nearly $1 billion over five years on a permanent solution. The breakdown includes $770 million to upgrade current sewage plants, another $7 million to move forward with a composting pilot program currently underway at the Brady Landfill and $200 million on planning a new long term sewage disposal system.
The goal is to clean sludge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous and find a safe use for the stuff.
Arnold Permut, the city’s wastewater systems engineer, listed a menu of options for sewage solids: Spreading it as fertilizer on farm lands, turning the stuff into pellets as a biofuel and fertilizer, composting it, dumping it in a landfill or using it to replace lost topsoil and other land reclamation projects. One option, called thermal oxidation, would burn up solid sludge to produce heat and energy. The leftover ash could be used as a fertilizer or a mix in asphalt and cement.
About 50 people turned out for the public forum held at the Children’s Museum at The Forks and listened quietly for the first hour of the event before the floor was opened up to questions.
This stage of the process may seem messy because it’s an early step toward putting a master plan together for sewage disposal, said Duane Griffin, head of the city’s water and waste’s management’s engineering division.
"That’s what we are doing in the next six months. We’re looking to the public for consultation prior to starting all that," he said. The process is part of the province’s licencing requirements for the city sewage treatment and disposal plan.
A second public meeting at the Children’s Museum is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 15, starting at 9 a.m.