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Two committees tasked with guiding projects to reduce the algae-promoting phosphorus that flows into Lake Winnipeg each year have postponed meetings this month and in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that will delay work on two projects meant to reduce the amount of pollution entering local waterways, work the committees were created to expedite.
"Work on this project is difficult to continue at the originally proposed, rapid pace… and it is recognized that will affect some of the timelines originally projected," a provincial statement noted.
In December, the province refused to extend a deadline for the city to reduce the amount of phosphorus in effluent leaving its North End sewage treatment plant to 1 milligram per litre or less. The city had asked the province to extend the deadline from Dec. 31, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2021.
The province also ordered the city to participate in two committees to create an implementation plan for a long-awaited $1.8-billion North End sewage treatment plant upgrade that would meet the provincial target. The committees were also tasked with planning out an interim phosphorus-reduction solution that could start before the upgrade is completed.
Those committees were expected to develop a clear schedule for both phosphorus reduction projects by July 31, a deadline that’s now been extended to Sept. 30, city spokesperson Adam Campbell said.
In an email, Campbell said COVID-19 has forced lab closures that could also delay the interim project.
"The interim chemical phosphorus removal testing schedule will be impacted as there is no accessibility to laboratory facilities at the University of Manitoba that are required for testing," he wrote.
Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairperson of Winnipeg city council’s water and waste committee, said the postponement was necessary to ensure municipal and provincial government officials can focus on maintaining the water supply and sewage treatment throughout the pandemic.
"In terms of the people that are all working on this file, every one of these are all part of essential services, so they’re all dealing with COVID-19, plus we have the (spring) flood… I support (the committees) taking a break until we can get through some of this," said Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre).
Phosphorus is a nutrient that promotes algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg, which can contain toxins. While the lake receives phosphorus from many different sources, the sewage treatment plant is believed to be the largest single-point source.
A preliminary timeline from the committees set a target date to begin construction on the nutrient-removal phase of treatment plant upgrade in 2026, which would continue until at least 2032. Design work for an interim solution to reduce phosphorus was expected to begin as soon as 2021, though the initial report warned those dates could change.
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.
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