Manitoba

Science will dictate design of North End sewage plant, Pallister government contends

The Pallister government has opened the door a crack for Winnipeg to re-examine upgrades to the North End sewage-treatment plant, the most expensive capital project on the city's books.

Province opens door to discuss what nutrients must be removed from effluent bound for Lake Winnipeg

The Pallister government has opened the door a crack for Winnipeg to re-examine upgrades to the North End sewage-treatment plant, the most expensive capital project on the city's books.

As part of environmental upgrades ordered by the province in 2003, the city plans to spend $795 million to make improvements to the North End Water Pollution Control Centre, the largest of the city's three sewage-treatment plants.

The biggest component of those upgrades is a nutrient-removal facility that would capture most of the nitrogen and phosphorus exuded by the plant when it sends effluent into the Red River. Those nutrients are carried into Lake Winnipeg, where they promote the growth of algae that alters the lake's ecology and diminishes its water quality.

For decades, freshwater scientists have argued it's more important to remove phosphorus from the effluent stream than it is to remove nitrogen, which blue-green algae are capable of acquiring directly from the air.

During the Sam Katz administration, city wastewater engineers pleaded with the province to allow the city to design and build nutrient-removal facilities that just capture phosphorus, as this would be less expensive and better for Lake Winnipeg.

The Selinger government refused, insisting on the removal of both phosphorus and nitrogen from the city's wastewater effluent. Both nutrients are removed at the West End sewage-treatment plant and are also slated to be removed from the South End plant, whose upgrades will be completed by 2018.

The city has yet to even award the design contract for the North End upgrades, which won't be finished until the 2020s.

On Tuesday, the Pallister government said the province is now open to discussing changes to project's scope.

"The primary objective of projects such as the upgrades at the North End wastewater treatment plant, is to improve water quality in Manitoba. We need to rely on good science and good technology to help achieve this objective," Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said in a statement. 

"Departmental officials are available to discuss with the city on how best to address nutrient loading, improve water quality and effectively manage the cost of projects."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he has yet to raise the issue with the Pallister  government but will work with the province on the sewage-treatment upgrades.

"Obviously we want science to dictate how we can do our part as a city to ensure the health of Lake Winnipeg in particular," Bowman said outside city hall.

"That's something I believe is very important to Winnipeggers. We want to make sure we're using the money that we have as wisely as possible to get the best results possible."

Geoff Patton, engineering manager for Winnipeg's water and waste department, said a provincial emphasis on phosphorus-removal alone could also benefit the South End Water Pollution Control Centre.

Even though the South End plant is being designed to remove both nutrients, a change to the city's environmental license would it make it cheaper to operate that facility if only phosphorus was removed from its effluent, Patton said.

With files from Sean Kavanagh

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