New Brunswick

Ottawa, province chip in to help Moncton tackle blue-green algae in drinking water

The federal and provincial governments are teaming up with the City of Moncton to spend a combined $22 million to keep blue-green algae out of the drinking water supply.

City of Moncton says the $21.9M will be second part of two-phase project

Jack MacDonald, Moncton's general manager of engineering and environmental services, said the upgrades could take about a year to research and then another two to design and build. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The City of Moncton is getting help from the federal and provincial governments to rid its water supply of a potentially toxic organism.

The three levels of government will spend a combined $21.9 million to research solutions and then upgrade the city's water supply to make it capable of treating cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, said Jack MacDonald, general manager of sustainable development and growth for the city.

The project is the second of two phases the city has already begun undertaking to address the problem, MacDonald said.

Cyanobacteria was found in 2017 in the Turtle Creek watershed, the drinking water source for Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, can form blooms and produce toxins harmful to humans and animals.

Last summer, the City of Moncton asked residents to reduce their water use to keep water levels in the reservoir deeper and cooler to reduce the concentration of nutrients that feed the algae.

The city at the time said the water remained safe for drinking, bathing, washing and cooking, but that could have changed if the reservoir levels dropped too low.

MacDonald said the first phase started about a year ago and involves implementing a system that removes cyanobacteria before the water is treated. That phase is set to be completed in May, he said.

The second, latest phase, is being done to equip the plant to be capable of treating water for cyanobacteria.

"Through this research, we'll come up with the best strategy for removing toxins and then that will be passed on to a design team, which will be the second part of phase two, which will then [be to] design a retrofit, and then we will tender out that retrofit for upgrading the plant, to be able to handle toxin remove," MacDonald said.

Moncton's water treatment plant is expected to undergo upgrades estimated to cost $27 million to deal with blue-green algae in the drinking water supply. (City of Moncton)

Of the $21.9 million being spent, between $400,000 and $500,000 will go to the research portion, which will be conducted by CBCL Ltd. over the next 12 to 15 months, he said.

The rest of the money will go toward designing and constructing the infrastructure for treating the water for cyanobacteria, he said.

Ottawa will contribute $8.8 million to the project, while the province will pitch in $7.3 million, and the city $5.8 million.

MacDonald said there are examples of treatment facilities designed to handle cyanobacteria in communities along the Great Lakes.

With the issue being less common in the Maritimes until recently, however, Moncton will have one of the only plants in the region designed to treat cyanobacteria.

"We haven't had to deal with blue-green algae in the Maritimes except for recently, and so most of the plants built in the Maritimes would have not been built with the ability to treat or remove blue-green algae.

"So we're probably one of the first plants in the Maritimes to have to deal with it."

Moncton's Tower Road dam, one of two of the city's drinking water reservoirs in the Turtle Creek area. (Shane Magee/CBC News)

In a media release issued Monday, Finance and Treasury Board Minister Ernie Steeves said the investment is about protecting public health and equipping Moncton with the infrastructure it needs for continued population growth and economic recovery.

In the same release, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the project will improve Moncton's drinking water system and provide residents with safer and more reliable water services for years to come.

MacDonald said the design and construction of the water infrastructure upgrade will take about two years after the research is completed.

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