Interim phosphorus removal won't come fast enough for Lake Winnipeg stakeholders

A plan to take a portion of the phosporus out of Winnipeg's sewage discharge into Lake Winnipeg will take longer that expected, raising the ire of stakeholder groups trying to protect it.

City of Winnipeg unveils plan to cut phosporus load into lake, but it won't be in place until 2023

Stakeholders say the city could have been more aggressive with targets to remove phospherous in it's interim plan. (CBC )

The city of Winnipeg has an interim plan to remove a portion of the phosphorous at its North End Sewage Treatment Plant, but it won't be implemented fast enough to satisfy some Lake Winnipeg stakeholders.

The $10.5 million startup costs for design and construction and $2.2 million in annual operating costs for the treatment process will need council approval before the project goes ahead.

Separately, the entire plant is the focus of decades-long efforts to develop a plan and find funding for a massive $1.8 billion-upgrade that has yet to be realized.

The addition of the new treatment process will allow the city to reduce the phosphorous load from the plant into the Red River and then to Lake Winnipeg by between approximately eight to 23 per cent.

That has stakeholders allowing partial praise for the project.

"That's phosphorus that won't enter the lake. Won't contribute to toxic algae blooms. Won't gunk up fish nets and shorelines and won't settle to the bottom of the lake and cycle back year after year," said Daniel Kanu from the Lake Winnipeg Indigenous Collective, in a submission to the city's water and waste committee Tuesday. 

The interim solution is a compromise while the city works on a plan and funding for the North End plant's upgrades. The city of Winnipeg has been non-compliant to its provincial licence to operate the plant since the end of 2019.

Water and waste managers hope the new facility can be online by August 2023 — and this timeline is where stakeholders around the lake end their praise and start to criticize the city's efforts. That target is longer than city council had directed the department to set.

"This is over a year late. The timeline agreed upon by city council in 2019 must be respected. LWF request the public service be directed to accelerate interim phosphorus removal to ensure it is operational by April 2022," said Alexis Kanu from the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

Alexis Kanu told CBC News the interim solution the city plans to install is in use at facilities in other locations across North America and doesn't understand why it would take the city so long to bring it online.

"This is a really simple and effective process. It's been in place for decades, it works very well. We are continually surprised by how challenging this solution is to implement at our plant in Winnipeg," Alexis Kanu said.

A sign on a post in front of a beach includes large red letters reading "Algae Advisory."
The new facility will be ready by August 2023, but overall upgrades to the North End sewage treatment plant are still years from completion. (CBC )

The city was also challenged by the stakeholders on how far it's going with interim reduction targets.

"The study missed an opportunity, I think, to identify a more aggressive target that would be even closer to meeting regulations. And while plants must be safely operated to avoid failure, a study like this one using modelling and labwork could have been bolder. Could have identified what was possible without risking harm," Daniel Kanu said. 

Councillors were told by water and waste management the new facilities would be assembled as soon as possible, but it was imperative to avoid risk and a potential catastrophic event at the plant that would do much greater damage than the current nutrient load.

"They think we can move more quickly. Our experts and our expert consultants are saying this is the time we need. Of course we are going to do it as quickly as we can. But we are not committing to 14 months. We cannot do that," said Moira Geer, the director of the water and waste department.

Though the project is targeted to come online in August 2023, the schedule will be reviewed as the design phase of the work is started.

WATCH | New treatment process will reduce phosphorous load:

New treatment process will reduce phosphorous load

3 years ago
Duration 2:15
The city of Winnipeg has an interim plan to remove phosphorus from sewage going to Lake Winnipeg. The plan has garnered some applause from lake stakeholders but they aren't pleased with the timelines.