City pushes water woes downstream

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Nobody likes to see good money go down the drain. But neither does anyone like to be left cleaning up someone else’s mess.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/09/2019 (1163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Nobody likes to see good money go down the drain. But neither does anyone like to be left cleaning up someone else’s mess.

That was the issue brought to a vote at Winnipeg city hall on Thursday when councillors rejected a proposal to reduce phosphorus emissions from the north end sewage treatment plant.

The motion, brought forward by Couns. Kevin Klein and Shawn Nason and supported by Coun. Jason Schreyer, recommended implementing a treatment process that could reduce phosphorus until a much more expensive upgrade of the city’s sewage treatment facilities is carried out.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Algae blooms overtook Victoria Beach in August.

According to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, nine per cent of the total phosphorus that goes into Lake Winnipeg comes from municipal wastewater, or 19 per cent of the total from within Manitoba. Winnipeg itself is responsible for five per cent of the phosphorus that goes into the lake. It may seem like making modifications to a single municipality’s phosphorus output, even a city as large as Winnipeg, will have little effect.

However, that stance is an abdication of responsibility and sets a bad example. As municipal wastewater treatment systems age and need upgrading, the standard should be one that decreases the potentially damaging effect on the environment. Winnipeg needs to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant and has a chance to set a good example.

Not to mention the consideration Winnipeggers can show those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Lake Winnipeg — commercial fishermen, those in the tourism industry and more — how many city residents also cottage, vacation or visit the communities and beaches of our great lake every year? A soupy shoreline, thanks to algae blooms, has consequences for even casual visitors.

In any case, the city has to take some action; the province ordered Winnipeg to get its phosphorus contribution into Lake Winnipeg down to one milligram per litre of water, from 3.54 mg/L.

Winnipeg city council heard on Thursday from the city auditor on an $828-million proposal for plant upgrades to clean up Winnipeg’s downstream waste. Those upgrades, if council decides to go ahead with them, would not necessarily be made in the near future.

However, the motion for a short-term solution was based on a report requested by the city and provided earlier this year. That report outlined a number of temporary options for dealing with wastewater. Among them was a proposal favoured by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, which, according to estimates, would cost $3 million in capital expenses and $2 million in annual expenses.

The timeline for implementing it would be within six to 18 months. Furthermore, it was the only proposal out of eight in the report that could potentially get phosphorus output down to one mg/L.

The institute’s proposed method is being used now by several municipalities in Eastern Canada and the United States, which shows that it works. A downside to the process is that larger amounts of sludge are produced, a major factor in the city’s decision not to embrace the initiative.

Of course, a temporary fix doesn’t obviate the need for a long-term solution. But neither does the converse hold true: if the city is already planning to do major upgrades, why not try a proposal that would help with phosphorus emissions much sooner? And, might not the experience of treating the wastewater to reduce phosphorus now give some insight into how the major upgrades should be carried out?

City council had the opportunity to spend money on something that would help clean up our city’s mess. Instead, it opted to pass the responsibility downstream.

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