Province denies city's request for more time to remove phosphorus from Winnipeg wastewater

The province has denied a request from the City of Winnipeg to extend a deadline to remove phosphorus from wastewater that ends up in Lake Winnipeg.

City must now take part in a committee aimed at completing North End sewage plant upgrades

Blue-green algae invades Victoria Beach last summer. The province has denied a request from the city for more time to complete upgrades to its North End Water Pollution Control Centre in order to remove phosphorous from wastewater that ends up in Lake Winnipeg. (Trish Richardson/Twitter)

The province has denied a request from the City of Winnipeg to extend a deadline to remove phosphorus from wastewater that ends up in Lake Winnipeg.

In order to comply with its Environment Act licence, the city was supposed to remove phosphorus from the waste stream by the end of this year, but asked for a two year-extension 

The project is one of three parts of $1.8 billion in upgrades the city is in the process of making to the North End Water Pollution Control Centre. 

On Thursday, the province denied this request, saying it would instead force the city to take part in a new committee aimed at ensuring the work is completed. That committee will guide the city in implementing an interim phosphorus reduction strategy to commence by Feb. 1, 2020, as well as implementation of the upgrades.

Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires says this shows her government is taking the health of Lake Winnipeg seriously.

"Manitobans expect action on Lake Winnipeg. Manitobans expect action on dealing with the phosphorus coming through the North End Water Pollution Control Centre and the province of Manitoba is very supportive of the action."

Squires as well as Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard wouldn't say how big of a share the province would pay for the project. 

"Without a plan you can't actually properly budget for this project so for us to pre-empt with any dollar amount would be premature," Guillemard said.

Fines have not been discussed at this point, she said. 

"We have multiple options to help the city comply."

A city spokesperson said the city is hopeful that working with the province "will help ensure funding certainty on this project, as we are unable to provide timeline certainty until we have funding certainty.

"We don't want to see any further delays on this project and will work collaboratively with the province to move this project forward. We are hopeful that this collaboration will help," said David Driedger in an email. 

Move puts city in a hard place, opposition says 

Opposition leaders said without any funding confirmed, they thought the move put the city in a difficult position. 

"It really puts the city between a rock and a hard place because they're expected to make the changes but they don't actually have the resources to do that," said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he thought the province should commit to funding part of the project. 

"They're putting strict conditions on the city but they're not willing to confirm that there's going to be the resources in place to get the job done," he said. 

"There needs to be the willingness from the province to invest in this because this is one of the defining issues of our time."

With files from Austin Grabish


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