Corner Brook attempting to tackle sewage treatment as 'impossible' deadline looms

The city of Corner Brook is looking to hire a consultant to find a way to stop pumping raw sewage into the bay, as the federal government's deadline for the city to begin treating its wastewater creeps closer.
Corner Brook has hired a consultant to address the raw sewage being pumped into the bay. 1:47

The City of Corner Brook is looking to hire a consultant to find a way to stop pumping raw sewage into the bay, as the federal government's deadline for the city to begin treating its wastewater creeps closer.

About a dozen outfalls in the city currently spew up to about 20 million litres of untreated wastewater into the bay a day — everything that flushes down Corner Brook's countless toilets, sinks and storm sewers.

"Q tips, Band-Aids, tampon applicators, needles … fuels from automobiles, it could be garden waste, pet waste," Sheldon Peddle, executive director of the environmental non-profit group ACAP Humber Arm, told The Corner Brook Morning Show.

One of about a dozen outfalls in Corner Brook, where raw sewage pours into the Humber Arm. (Submitted by ACAP Humber Arm)

Peddle added that garbage clogs the areas around the outfalls, creating biological dead zones.

"It looks like what we would think of as being the surface of the moon."

In 2012, the federal government passed a law, which states that municipalities need to take certain steps to treat sewage.

For Corner Brook — which falls under the regulation's 'high risk' category —  the city has to begin a secondary sewage treatment process by 2020, a deadline the city's mayor Charles Pender called "impossible."

Peddle agreed.

"While we fully support the intent, in terms of getting municipalities online with sewage treatment and cleaning up our coastal areas, what the last federal government did was bring in these regulations with an unrealistic timeline, and with no increased financial support for municipalities," said Peddle.

Search for consultants

The city has set a Dec. 18 deadline on a request for proposals to source a consultant to study wastewater options.

"Do we need one plant? Do we need three plants? What are the options that are out there?" asked Pender, who added the city is open to all options.

"The approach the city is taking now is a wise one. Let's get out there and look at what new technologies now exist that may be more cost effective," said Peddle.

Design and engineering alone could take years, on top of construction.

The city doesn't know if one large treatment plant on the waterfront is needed, or if multiple, smaller facilities could do the work. (Judy Dwyer )

Peddle estimates any operating treatment system is about 10 years away, even if the need for one is urgent.

"[It's] definitely impacting the water quality, limiting the opportunity that we have both for recreational use and for increased economic use as well," said Peddle.

'Complicated issue'

Before building any type of treatment plant, Pender said at least 15 kilometres of pipeline in the city need to be replaced, in order to separate its storm sewers and its sanitary sewers — work that includes replacing the entire length of West Street.

"It's a complicated issue," said Pender. 

Mayor Charles Pender says he doesn't know how the city will fund a treatment plant. (CBC)

On top of that, construction could be in the $70 to $90 million range, with yearly operating costs somewhere between $1 and $2 million.

"We don't have a clue how we're going to pay for this," said Pender, adding that so far, the province hasn't been willing to provide any funding, and even the federal government has been reluctant, although that may have changed since the election.

"I have more optimism today than I did a month ago that the federal government will be on side."

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