March 28, 2020

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Bowman issues warning in push to phosphorus deadline

The water and waste department says it needs a testing period of about a year to slowly introduce ferric chloride into the sewage-processing system and understand how it will affect the overall operation of the plant. (Boris Minkevich / Free Press files)</p>

The water and waste department says it needs a testing period of about a year to slowly introduce ferric chloride into the sewage-processing system and understand how it will affect the overall operation of the plant. (Boris Minkevich / Free Press files)

The City of Winnipeg will comply with a provincially mandated timeline to reduce phosphorus emissions from the north end sewage treatment plant — but other municipalities may be impacted to maintain the integrity of the pollution control centre, Mayor Brian Bowman warns.

"We’re going to work, obviously, to meet the requirements from the regulator, and we’re going to work collaboratively with the province of Manitoba," Bowman said Friday. "But if we have to meet requirements, there could be other consequences from that."

On Thursday afternoon, the City of Winnipeg learned the province had denied its request to extend the deadline to reach emissions targets at the north end plant, and as of Jan. 1, 2020, it would not be in compliance with its Environment Act licence.

The denial, according to the province, in part was based on the city failing to provide a clear timeline and implementation date for an interim plan.

The province had required the city to make upgrades to reduce phosphorus emissions to one mg/litre by the end of this year. In July, the city asked the province to give it until Dec. 31, 2021, to develop an interim licence compliance plan, as it wouldn't meet that target.

Without an approved plan, the province has directed the city to participate in two planning committees, provide monthly progress reports, and bring interim measures online by Feb. 1, 2020.

Geoffrey Patton, manager of engineering services with City of Winnipeg water and waste department, said more time is needed to fully appreciate how phosphorus reduction methods, including new chemical applications, could affect operations.

The city is investigating the use of binding agent ferric chloride to reduce phosphorus emissions, Patton said, and civic officials believe the province wants to see such a program implemented by Feb. 1.

"If we introduce this chemical in too great amounts, we risk killing off the biomass and ending sewage treatment at the north end, west end and south end treatment plants, and causing a catastrophic failure and discharge of partially raw, untreated sewage to rivers," Patton said.

"We were very clear that we needed to do testing to understand the impacts, so if we felt that we could start this process Feb. 1, we would."

Patton said a request for proposals to do further engineering tests, which could take upwards of a year, closes next week. The city also has to consider how the north end plant will be impacted once the south end sewage treatment plant comes into operation.

"We believe we need this year, at a minimum, to look at the impacts, but then we also need to secure funding," he added. "We need to come back to council and request funding to implement the interim measures, whatever they may be."

Bowman said the city may be forced to review, and potentially cancel, existing sewage treatment service agreements with neighbouring municipalities, including the rural municipalities of Rosser and West St. Paul to "protect the integrity of the plant" if changes are imposed by Feb. 1.

Anticipated load increases from industry will also impact the plant, he noted.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said the province’s efforts are intended to accelerate improvements in wastewater quality without jeopardizing existing or anticipated clients.

"However, if new clients are expected to contribute more nutrients to the north end plant, there is even more reason to move quickly to complete the upgrades so that nutrient loads decrease rather than increase. The city must plan for and accommodate expected increases in loading to the wastewater treatment plant, and we will be at the table to help get that result," the spokesperson said.

The province’s decision came as a surprise, Bowman added, and he had hoped to hear the government commit to funding upgrades to the north end sewage treatment plant.

The city is planning $1.8 billion in projects at the site, and has begun work on the major capital project with $400-million earmarked for the first phase, Bowman said. The city has also asked for $300 million from the federal government, a request which must be forwarded by the province.

"The quickest way to accelerate things and the best way to protect the health of (Lake Winnipeg) would be for the province of Manitoba to respond to the funding request for the north end sewage treatment plant. We’ve asked for about $267 million in support. That could have been announced yesterday, and it was not," Bowman said.

"If we had that funding certainty, we could provide a construction timeline and construction certainty, which we know that they’ve requested and was one of the primary reasons for the denial."

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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Updated on Friday, December 6, 2019 at 12:13 PM CST: Typo fixed.

4:57 PM: Updated

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