SUNDRE — With a cutting-edge wastewater facility that is expected to be operational next year, the town is poised to demonstrate the viability of a state-of-the-art technology that could set a new trend in affordable environmental stewardship.
Whereas traditional sewage lagoon systems take some 200 days to treat wastewater, the electrochemical facility — billed as the first of its kind in Alberta — significantly reduces not only the capital cost and footprint, but also treatment time down to about one hour. Along the way, the process is also said to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
“Maybe now, Sundre’s a trendsetter for Alberta,” Darrell Behan, Soneera Water chief executive officer, told local officials on June 28 during the first in-person council meeting since chambers were closed due to the pandemic.
Behan’s statement came following a council motion unanimously approving a supply and services agreement between his company and the municipality, granting the chief administrative officer authorization to sign the document on the town’s behalf.
Prior to the motion carrying, Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, provided council with background about the pilot project, which will be trialled for one year to ensure treated water meets updated provincial and federal guidelines for releasing effluent back into the Red Deer River, which feeds many municipalities downstream.
The construction cost of the $11.5-million facility will be borne by the technology providers at no risk to the municipality. But once the treatment plant has been proven, the town will repay the company, with most of the expense being covered by provincial funding amounting $7.5 million.
“I sure hope that we do not disappoint in the least way,” said Erhard Poggemiller, a mechanical and construction consultant with KEP Industries Ltd.
“My reputation’s on this as well,” said Poggemiller, confident that the facility will make Sundre a model showcase community that other municipalities turn to when upgrading their own wastewater treatment plants.
“Erhard’s only got his reputation (on the line) — we’ve got $11.5 million,” added Behan to laughter from council and town staff.
Mayor Terry Leslie expressed enthusiasm for the partnership, which protects the municipality from financial risk if the plant doesn’t work.
“It’s a pretty good deal for us, and I think that’s a testament to the caliber of the project that you’re going to provide,” said Leslie.
CAO Nelson presented council with a recap on the timeline to date, and said that the cost estimate originally anticipated to upgrade the facility using traditional treatment methods once the municipality reached a population of about 4,700, would all-told have amounted to about $44.8 million.
Triggering the requirement to upgrade the municipality’s wastewater treatment facility was two factors — to accommodate capacity for future growth, as well as ensuring compliance with new provincial effluent limits that will be imposed in 2025 on treated water that is discharged into the Red Deer River, said Nelson.
“In early 2019, the town began exploring a new technology for treating wastewater with Tecvalco,” she said.
“Since that time, our discussions have expanded to include Current Water (Technologies) Inc. and Soneera Water Canada, who is Tecvalco’s licensor and technology owner.”
Following those initial conversations, Nelson said local officials and key staff members, as well as representatives from other municipalities and the president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, toured a wastewater treatment plant in Saskatchewan.
In Alberta, many communities continue to use traditional lagoons to treat water, she said.
“While they are reasonably inexpensive to operate, they take up a significant amount of land and they take up to 200 days to treat wastewater,” she said
“The advanced technology Sundre is proposing is efficient and designed specifically to outlast the lifespan of a lagoon.”
Compared with the traditional approach of holding cells in a lagoon system, the electrochemical facility has a significantly smaller footprint, she said.
“But what is really interesting, is that the system treats raw sewage in less than 60 minutes," she said.
Furthermore, the technology is scaleable and can be adapted to serve small villages with populations of fewer than 1,000 people, or for larger urban centres as well, she said, adding the building can be designed for future expansion based on a community’s growth.
“The system can be seamlessly integrated into existing infrastructure such as a traditional lagoon,” she said, adding the latter ends up being used for storage and settling.
“The system does not require chemicals or membranes, and as a result, it is less costly to operate over time when compared to other mechanical systems.”
Of greatest significance, she said, is the improved quality of treated water that is returned to the pristine Red Deer River.
But the list of benefits goes on, including improved effectiveness throughout the winter months, which traditional systems tend to struggle more with, she said.
The new plant will also eliminate the production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, a chemical compound commonly associated with biological treatment approaches for treating ammonia and other nitrogen compounds, she added.
“Nitrous oxide is approximately 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as an agent of global warming and its chemical interactions in the atmosphere depletes the ozone layer," she said.
These benefits should provide an additional bonus of qualifying any municipality that embraces the technology for carbon credits, which could further serve to offset operational costs, she said.
Support from the provincial government played no small role in bringing forward this project, she said.
The plant will operate as a closed-loop system where only treated water is discharged, and waste sludge will be turned into treated pellets that meet fertilizer standards, which can then be sold, she said.
“Upon successfully completing the testing period, and meeting the discharge criteria set forth by Alberta Environment, Soneera would be paid in full by the town within an agreed timeframe,” she said, adding unexpected cost overruns are to be covered by the company, which further alleviates the financial risk from the municipality and the province in the “unlikely event” the plant does not perform as billed.
The 45-page long agreement outlines stipulations such as the companies’ responsibilities to design, engineer, construct, install, and demonstrate the effectiveness of the plant, she said.
“Soneera will train our staff to effectively operate the facility,” she said, adding there will also be a warranty and replacement program to ensure a supply of parts and material.
The municipality, meanwhile, will be responsible for partnering up to obtain all necessary permits from the province and Mountain View County, as well as providing utility services and site access, she said.
“Sundre must at all times ensure that the site is kept in good order, free from all foreseeable hazards.”
Council proceeded to unanimously carry a motion authorizing Nelson to sign the agreement. Further motions were also carried to:
• reconfirm the town’s portion of funding that over the years have already been set aside for the project;
• acknowledge the provincial government’s funding commitment;
• ensure $950,000 remains available in reserve surplus accounts;
• ensure an additional $200,000 is available in the lifecycling reserve in the event of unforeseen expenses like legal costs, testing and due diligence.