City sewage plant meets pollution targets
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A target to greatly reduce pollution leaving Winnipeg’s South End sewage treatment plant is regularly being achieved, while other construction at the site is 11 years overdue and the facility still doesn’t meet licence requirements.
A city report notes effluent from the South End plant now consistently meets a provincial directive to contain less than 1 milligram per litre of phosphorous and less than 15 mg/L of nitrogen.
While work is underway to convert the plant to a fully biological treatment process that meets those pollution limits, as required by the city’s provincial licence, the use of ferric chloride ensures that pollution limit is met during most weather conditions, wrote water and waste spokeswoman Lisa Marquardson, in an emailed statement.
“We are currently meeting the pollution reduction targets, through chemical treatment, under normal conditions,” wrote Marquardson.
Phosphorous and nitrogen are nutrients in sewage effluent that promote algae growth in waterways, including Lake Winnipeg. The South End sewage upgrade will reduce one source of that pollution and increase sewage treatment capacity.
Some council members welcomed the progress.
“(It is) one step forward in a long march… We, the City of Winnipeg, are a pretty big part of Lake Winnipeg’s future so I take some pride that… we got a lot done in the last two terms (on sewage treatment) and we’ve got to keep going,” said Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the water and waste committee.
The city was originally supposed to finish the plant upgrade in 2012.
The South End upgrade is expected to cost $375.6 million, up from an original cost of $335.6 million. The city has partnered with the provincial and federal governments to fund the project.
The city blames the cost hikes on contractor delays, as well as increased material and shipping costs.
“It’s been a long, long overbudget process at South End. I think we’ve learned some lessons from it but the finish line is in sight… It has been a decade of inching forward and I think we’ve picked up the pace pretty well under the former mayor and hopefully, we’ll keep that going,” said Mayes.
Council’s finance chairman said he’s also glad to see progress on the lengthy project.
“Everything seems to be going in the right direction now and it’s obviously way overdue,” said Coun. Jeff Browaty.
The latest city report on the South End upgrade blames delays on a contractor repeatedly missing key deadlines, including a recent one to reach “total performance” at the facility by Jan. 20, 2022.
“The… contractor’s schedule and performance is being closely monitored in an attempt to maintain the revised (completion) target of (the third quarter of) 2023,” the report notes.
An environmental scientist who advocates for the health of Lake Winnipeg said the pollution reduction is worth noting but the continuing delays on wastewater treatment upgrades are a major concern.
“I think it’s wonderful that now the South End plant is (regularly) complying with the phosphorous limit. But I think we have to temper the celebration a little bit… this is (many) years past the original date for phosphorous compliance at the South End plant. And that’s concerning because we’re seeing the exact same challenges play out at the North End (sewage treatment) plant. We’re looking at years of delay,” said Alexis Kanu, executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
While a $1.854-billion upgrade to the North End sewage plant is underway, the city doesn’t expect to complete its second biosolids facilities phase of the three-phase project until 2030. No funding has been secured for the upgrade’s third and final nutrient-removal phase, Kanu noted.
“We need to find a solution that’s going to be quick and cost-effective to get us to phosphorous compliance,” she said.
Kanu said the effectiveness of ferric chloride to reduce phosphorous from the South End plant indicates that is possible. The Lake Winnipeg Foundation has long urged the city to focus on reducing phosphorous by strategically using that chemical. Instead of waiting until the third phase of the project to tackle pollution at the North End plant, Kanu hopes the city will soon add funding to the biosolids facilities project to add a ferric chloride dosing system.
The city had estimated making that change would cost about $130 million, as part of a $360-million potential price hike that would raise the biosolids facilities cost from $552 million to $912 million. A separate report released Tuesday notes the city plans to seek two more cost estimates and hopefully find savings.
Meanwhile, the South End treatment plant appears to be at risk of additional delays.
The report warns a contractor is now “tracking behind schedule” on a raw sewage pump and another upgrade, which are supposed to be completed by the spring melt.
“If this work is not completed in this seasonal low-flow work period, it puts the project at risk of schedule extensions and cost increases,” the report notes.
Council’s finance committee is expected to consider the updates during its April 12 meeting.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.