Winnipeg gets nearly $213M from federal, provincial governments for North End sewage plant upgrades
Funding for 1st phase of upgrades to modernize sewage treatment plant, expected to cost $1.8B in total
A long-awaited funding announcement for the first stage of critical upgrades to Winnipeg's North End Water Pollution Control Centre finally came on Friday — a fraction of the total $1.8 billion the city estimates it needs to fully upgrade the sewage treatment plant.
A combined $212.8 million has been dedicated to the project by the federal ($116.1 million) and provincial ($96.7 million) governments, officials announced Friday morning.
The city is spending more than $143 million on top of that.
It will all go toward the headworks at the plant on Main Street, across from Kildonan Park. The headworks is part of the treatment process that involves raw sewage pumping, screening, grit screening and removal.
The cost for upgrades to the plant's headworks was estimated in April at $473 million, up $65 million from an earlier estimate.
And that is just Phase 1 of the broader series of upgrades necessary to modernize the plant and expand the entire treatment system, which is expected to reach nearly $1.8 billion.
The city has been waiting for provincial and federal funding for upgrades to the plant for years, something that Dan Vandal, the member of Parliament for St. Boniface-St. Vital, acknowledged.
"I'm very, very happy to be here as we finally, finally, finally make this announcement," the former City of Winnipeg councillor said during Friday morning's announcement at the treatment plan. Vandal had pushed for the project back when he was part of the municipal government.
"This has taken way too long."
Asked about being left to pay the majority of the costs, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman shifted the focus to what has already been committed.
"Today shouldn't be undervalued. This is progress [but] we've got more work to do," he said.
WATCH | Former city councillor, now MP Dan Vandal says funding good first step:
Vandal was also asked about future funding for the plant and said he is ready to sit down with the city and province and look at supporting the next two phases, calling Friday's announcement "an incredibly positive first step."
Last fall, the city asked that a transfer of $321 million from the transit infrastructure stream of the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Fund be used for work on Winnipeg's North End Water Pollution Control Centre — in effect moving it from an allocation earmarked for transit to a green infrastructure project.
That application had to be approved and forwarded to Ottawa by the provincial government.
Two months ago, the province told the city to explore the option of a public-private partnership to find the funding for the second phase of the North End upgrades — the creation of a biosolids processing facility.
Bowman said today this will delay the project by two years. Provincial Crown Services Minister Reg Helwer said that is not necessarily the case.
The opposition NDP accused the Progressive Conservative government of having "a hidden agenda" to privatize components of Winnipeg's wastewater treatment system.
The federal Conservatives, meanwhile, accused Justin Trudeau's Liberal government of dithering on the sewage-treatment upgrades since 2016.
"Trudeau let down Manitobans and failed to deliver on this project and his 2017 promise to clean up Lake Winnipeg," Kildonan-St. Paul MP Raquel Dancho said in a statement.
The city has been undertaking a massive upgrade of its sewage treatment system to meet the requirements of its licence under the province's Environment Act and reduce the outflow of nutrients into Lake Winnipeg.
In 2003, Winnipeg was ordered by the province's Clean Environment Commission to reduce the nutrient load it puts into Lake Winnipeg.
The city spent $47 million upgrading the West End Water Pollution Control Centre a decade ago, is spending $336 million on upgrades to the South End Water Pollution Control Centre and has most recently been planning upgrades at the North End plant, the largest and oldest of the three.
Commissioned in 1937, the North End plant processes 70 per cent of the city's wastewater.
"It's a critical piece of infrastructure [but] it's been in desperate need of an upgrade for many years. Today's historic announcement … is a major milestone in funding that upgrade," Bowman said Friday.
"After being stalled by numerous city councils for many years, we're now making major progress."
On top of the upgrades to the North End plant, the city must also spend billions over the coming decades to replace combined sewers with separate, dedicated pipes for sewage and storm water.
The province has also given the city until 2045 to capture 85 per cent of the diluted sewage that flows into Winnipeg's rivers during an average year due to the old, combined system that carries both stormwater runoff and raw sewage and results in overflows an average of 22 times a year.
With files from Bartley Kives and Sean Kavanagh