A Winnipeg sewage-treatment plant that has not been upgraded due to an ongoing political dispute is one of the nation's worst phosphorus polluters, new data reveal.
Preliminary 2010 emissions data from the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) show the city's North End Water Pollution Control Centre dumped 247 tonnes of phosphorus into Winnipeg waterways last year — the fourth-largest amount of any city or industrial facility in the country, next to waste-water treatment plants in Vancouver and Montreal. It's the second year in a row the plant's phosphorus emissions have been the fourth-highest in Canada, though the amount the plant dumped into local rivers decreased by 50 tonnes between 2009 and 2010.
The City of Winnipeg has to report its emissions to the national government database every year.
Kelly Kjartanson, manager of environmental standards for the City of Winnipeg, said the city would definitely like to be lower on that national list. He said the North End plant releases a large amount of phosphorus into the river because of its size — it treats about 75 per cent of city waste water — and the fact the city has not moved ahead with upgrades to the plant due to a dispute with the province over nutrient removal.
However, he said, the City of Winnipeg accounts for only a fraction of the estimated 8,000 tonnes of phosphorus that flow into Lake Winnipeg each year.
The province wants the Winnipeg plant to build a nutrient-removal facility that removes both phosphorus and nitrogen, which promote the growth of harmful algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg. The city has argued it should only remove nitrogen in the form of ammonia, which is toxic to fish.
As a result of the disagreement, construction of a $365-million nutrient-removal facility at the city's largest waste-water plant was put off earlier this year. The city did not include the project in its plans for next year when it released the 2012 capital budget this week.
"Most of the ammonia and most of the phosphorus does go out into the river right now because we're not treating for it at the plant," Kjartanson said.
The province ordered the City of Winnipeg to build the new nutrient-removal facility after a massive failure caused the North End plant to spew raw sewage into the Red River for 57 hours in 2002. The nutrient-removal facility is part of more than $1 billion in upgrades to Winnipeg's sewage-treatment system.
Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak was unavailable for comment, but a spokeswoman sent an email statement on his behalf that said the province will help fund the upgrades and work with the city to get the job done as quickly as possible.
NPRI data also show the North End Pollution Control Centre dumped another 387 tonnes of nitrate iron — a form of nitrogen — into the river last year, up from 363 tonnes the previous year. The plant also released another 1,257 tonnes of ammonia into the water.
It dumped more than twice as much phosphorus into waterways than the south-end treatment plant and 17 times more phosphorus than the West End treatment plant.
Kjartanson said that's because the West End plant has been upgraded and now limits its release of phosphorus and nitrogen to one milligram of phosphorus per litre of waste water. By comparison, the North End plant will release between four and five milligrams of phosphorus per litre of waste water, he said.
He said that amount will drop when the Winnipeg plant gets a new nutrient-removal facility. The south-end plant is also slated for future upgrades so it can remove nitrogen and phosphorus.
Kjartanson cautioned the City of Winnipeg only accounts for about five per cent of the total phosphorus and four per cent of the total nitrogen that flows into Lake Winnipeg.
The bulk of the nutrients that land in the lake comes from the United States via the Red and Souris rivers and from elsewhere in Manitoba, he said.
What do we send into our water?
EVERY year, city sewage-treatment plants dump pollutants into local waterways, and officials are required to report those emissions to the National Pollutant Release Inventory. Here's a look at what local sewage-treatment plants dumped into the river in 2010.
North End Water Pollution Control Centre
Phosphorus: 247 tonnes
Nitrate ion (form of nitrogen): 387 tonnes
Ammonia: 1,257 tonnes
South End Water Pollution Control Centre
Phosphorus: 90 tonnes
Nitrate ion: 57 tonnes
Ammonia: 508 tonnes
West End Water Pollution Control Centre:
Phosphorus: 14 tonnes
Nitrate ion: 11 tonnes
Ammonia: 29 tonnes
— Source: National Pollutant Release Inventory, 2010 preliminary data