The province and the City of Winnipeg have signalled they’re working together to reduce the amount of phosphorus that flows into Lake Winnipeg, polluting it.
Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard went to city hall Friday for a news conference with Mayor Brian Bowman — not with any money for the $1.8-billion north end sewage treatment plant upgrades, but to say the two levels of government are on the same page for the scope of the work to be done this year.
The province is committed to working with the city to speed up the removal of phosphorus from wastewater, if possible, the minister said.
"We are very pleased with the collaborative progress that has taken place over the last six weeks," said Guillemard, as the interim phosphorus-reduction plan and nutrient-removal implementation plan was released Friday — a deadline set by the province.
In 2020, Phase 1 of the plan involves completion of the plant’s power supply upgrade and a request for proposal on a design-build contract for the headworks facility. Design work will begin on Phase 2, the biosolids facility.
"Although there is still a lot of work to do, we have taken important steps to protect the future of Lake Winnipeg and we will continue to work to expedite this important project," the minister said before Winnipeg’s mayor spoke about the depth of the phosphorus problem and who, so far, is paying to fix it.
"For over a decade, upgrades to the north end sewage treatment plant have lingered without a funding source," Bowman said. "The city remains the only level of government with any funding commitment at this time."
The long-term project involves upgrading the Main Street facility to comply with provincial environmental regulations, including limits on effluent emissions into the Red River for nitrogen and phosphorus, and the construction of a new facility to treat sludge from the city’s three sewage treatment plants.
City council approved $408 million in 2018 to begin construction and, on Thursday, it approved more than $15 million toward its second phase, said Bowman. It also approved increasing water and sewer rates over the next four years to help pay for the upgrades to the north end plant.
"Last year, the city prioritized the project and formally requested federal-provincial cost-sharing," said Bowman. "We’re still awaiting a formal response from the province, but we do appreciate the recent collaborative dialogue."
An environmental watchdog group credits outraged Manitobans for the recent collaboration.
"It’s important to acknowledge the really hard work and concern of citizens who last year experienced horrible algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg and expect action," said Alexis Kanu, executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
Yet, with hundreds of millions of dollars needed to complete the work, the NDP critic for the environment and climate change criticized the province for not taking money to the table Friday.
"The Pallister Conservatives are still refusing to fund upgrades to the treatment plant even though it could help save Lake Winnipeg and keep it healthy for future generations of families," Lisa Naylor said in an email.
The North End Water Pollution Control Centre is the largest single-point emitter of phosphorus, contributing about five per cent of the total found in Lake Winnipeg.
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Updated on Friday, January 31, 2020 at 10:32 PM CST: Adds photos.