Despite marginal benefit, city has a $1-B plan to reduce sewer discharge into Red

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Officials have a billion-dollar plan to reduce the amount of diluted sewage discharged into the city’s rivers during intense rainfalls but the real benefit appears to be marginal.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2016 (2440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Officials have a billion-dollar plan to reduce the amount of diluted sewage discharged into the city’s rivers during intense rainfalls but the real benefit appears to be marginal.

Officials from the water and waste department said Monday that the plan it’s recommending to the province will increase the amount of diluted sewage capture from the current 74 per cent to 85 per cent but the impact on Lake Winnipeg will be marginal.

Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the city’s environment committee, said he questions such a large expenditure for so little gain.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press The Culvert that opens into the Red River at St. John's Park on Main Street and Mountain Avenue.

“If we’re spending a billion dollars and we’re still going to have floatables in the river, I don’t think anyone’s too happy with that,” Mayes (St. Vital) said. “Maybe there’s some better way of spending the money… That’s a ton of money to spend for a very modest return.”

Officials told councillors on the committee the city has submitted to the province a proposed master plan that outlines five options on how to deal with the current situation where diluted sewage is discharged into the rivers during periods of intense rainfall.

The province has demanded the city develop a plan that will be operational by 2030.

The objective is to reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen discharged into the river system that flows into Lake Winnipeg.

Officials told the committee that the improvements to the combined sewer system from the $1-billion option will reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous marginally: the city’s current contribution of nitrogen and phosphorous from sewage discharges will be reduced from 0.3 per cent of total nutrient loading into Lake Winnipeg to 0.1 per cent.

Officials said the city’s preferred option had been peer-reviewed and endorsed by officials from the cities of Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Omaha. The 85-per cent capture target complies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized benchmark standards for combined sewer overflow programs.

The city’s option – the least expensive, at an estimated $1.2 billion – can be operational by 2030 but city officials said they want to have an operational date of 2080.

The most expensive option, at a price tag of more than $4 billion, calls for the complete separation of the city’s underground sewage and waste water lines.

“We can’t afford that,” Coun. Ross Eadie, a member of the committee, said.

Eadie said the $1-billion option will ensure that raw sewage isn’t forced into people’s homes as a result of basement flooding during intense rainfalls.

Geoff Patton, manager of engineering at water and waste, said the consensus from a recently completed public consultation process was that residents didn’t think the most expensive option was affordable and they opted for the least affordable plan but to stretch it out beyond the 2030 operational deadline.

Patton said the city has to wait for the provincial government’s reaction to its plan before it moves onto the second stage, which would be more detailed design work.

The committee was told that the city discharges about 900 million litres of diluted sewage annually into the rivers during periods of intense rainfall.

While the city has always maintained there were on average 22 such incidents every year, Patton confirmed that there are 22 discharges from each of the city’s 79 outfall pipes – a total of 1,638 discharges of diluted sewage annually.

Map: Raw sewage in Winnipeg’s rivers

What Is the CSO Master Plan?

The city’s response to a demand by the province to stem the discharge of sewage into the city’s rivers.

CSO means combined sewer overflow and refers to the discharge of diluted sewage into the river system from the underground network of pipes that handle both the stormwater runoff and sewage. Under normal circumstances in most of the city’s older neighbourhoods, both stormwater runoff and sewage is collected in the same underground pipe and fed to one of three sewage-treatment plants. During incidents of intense rainfall, usually between May and September, the stormwater flow is so great that it cannot be diverted to the sewage-treatment plants and much of it overflows directly into the Red and Assiniboine rivers via 79 outfall pipes located across the city; in some of those incidents, the sewage also backs up into people’s homes during times of basement flooding. In a typical season, there are 22 overflows at each of the 79 outfall pipes, resulting in the discharge of about 900 million litres of diluted sewage into the city’s rivers.

The city is allowed these CSO discharges under provincial environmental license 3042, which requires city hall to produce a preliminary report (the Master Plan) examining a minimum of three options on how to curb the unpleasant discharge, with a system in operation by the year 2030. The preliminary report was due by the end of December 2015 and the city submitted its report on deadline, with five options. The final report is due December 2017.

Five Options To Deal With CSO

1. 85% Capture — Increase the amount of treated sewage from current 74 per cent to 85 per cent, the rest being the amount discharged into the Red and Assiniboine rivers. This is a benchmark accepted by the U.S. EPA for CSO systems and was endorsed in a peer review process with officials from Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Omaha. This is the city’s preferred option, to be operational by the year 2080, but can be completed by 2030 if the province insists. Cost: $1.2 billion

2. Maximum 4 Overflows In Any Year — Increases the amount of treated sewage to 98 per cent, allowing an average of up to four overflows per year. Cost: $2.6 billion

3. Zero Overflows In Any Year. Provides 100 per cent capture of sewage for treatment, with an average of zero overflows per year. Cost: $3.3 billion

4. No more than four overflows in any year. A variation of Option #2 but with a higher level of performance than Option #3. Provides 100 per cent capture of sewage for treatment, with no more than four overflows in any year. Cost: $3.7 billion

5. Complete sewer separation — Installing a second network of underground pipes, with the new network for stormwater runoff, while the existing sewers designated for sewage. Provides 100 per cent capture of sewage for treatment, with no overflows possible. Cost: $4.1 billion

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, February 1, 2016 4:05 PM CST: Factbox added.

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