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Sundre secretive on pilot wastewater treatment technology

Council approves application to Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Fund
MVT sewage lagoon
The Town of Sundre will be applying to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Municipal Green Fund in the amount of $500,000 for the pilot testing of a new, innovative technology for wastewater treatment. File photo/MVP Staff

SUNDRE — The municipality is planning a pilot test of new, innovative wastewater treatment technology. 

But the project depends on first securing a grant.   

Following an in-camera session after the regular Nov. 23 meeting conducted by teleconference, council unanimously carried a motion supporting the application to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' (FCM) Municipal Green Fund in the amount of $500,000 for the pilot testing of a new, innovative technology for wastewater treatment.

The development is the latest in a several-year effort to pave the way for required regulatory upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant, a project with a potential cost of more than $10 million. 

“Some of the new technology that we’re working with is privileged, patented information,” Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, said Dec. 3 during a phone interview.  

“So, I won’t be able to answer any technical questions or give you information on who the people we’re working with are at this point,” said Nelson, adding that information would eventually be made public.   

However, she outlined the facility’s history and why the major infrastructure project is a critical priority for the municipality.  

The existing lagoon system was completed in 1982. Decades later, the municipality in 2012 commissioned its consulting engineers to conduct a study of the facility.  

“At that time, the licence would expire in 2014, and the system was near capacity. The study included a review of potential options, and would provide recommendations and a preliminary design,” she said.  

Subsequently carried out were a water quality based effluent limits study, which investigated the provincial government’s guidelines for effluent treatment limits, as well as a wastewater treatment study, which looked at the existing lagoons and capabilities to meet regulations.

Among the key factors considered in the studies were: current and future growth; current effluent treatment; low river flow conditions; federal regulations; metals; and mixing, she said.  

“The study looked at four different wastewater treatment technologies that are currently being used in Alberta," she said.  

Additionally, the municipality recently completed a master infrastructure study, which is still in draft form and “encompasses a review of existing conditions and constraints, as well as future growth projections for commercial, industrial and residential areas. It provides for broad scale planning and cost projections for current and future infrastructure requirements, including wastewater treatment.” 

The draft plan for the wastewater treatment lagoon outlines major capital costs, which are triggered not only based on population, but also the new mandatory water quality obligations under the town’s wastewater approval for effluent limit requirements through Alberta Environment and Parks, she said.   

“By 2025, we need to meet the new effluent limits," she said.

As per the municipality’s philosophy of continuous improvement, she said administration has for more than two years been researching potential technologies that take into account a number of considerations such as operating and capital costs, as well as a more regional social mandate of wastewater management stewardship designed to protect the pristine water quality of the Red Deer River. 

“As the first users on the Red Deer River, we have a great responsibility to put the best quality water as possible back into that river for downstream users,” she said.  

“That is a heavy, heavy burden on our shoulders. But one that we agree 100 per cent with and wouldn’t have any other way.” 

Late this past spring, the municipality submitted an application to Alberta Environment and Parks under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act seeking authorization to conduct a short-term testing of a pilot wastewater treatment system.

About a week later, the town was authorized by the ministry to proceed “under the conditions that the influent for the pilot plant comes in from the existing wastewater lagoon system, and that the effluent from the pilot plant flows back to the existing wastewater lagoon system,” she said.   

This in turn led to administration’s Nov. 23 request for council to support the application to the FCM for the green fund by way of motion.

Successful applicants must respond to a series of questions to ensure the proposed project meets the grant’s outlined criteria and objectives, she said.  

Those include: 

  • a description of the environmental, social and economic objectives the municipality hopes to achieve;  
  • the expected environmental benefits;  
  • a description of how the initiative will contribute to implementing the town’s existing plans or strategies;  
  • a description of the approach or methodology;  
  • a description of the community benefits;  
  • how the project exemplifies innovative practices and technologies;  
  • and indicate aspects of the initiative’s method or findings that could be used by, or provide lessons for, other municipalities.   

“We are also required to describe the structure of our project management team, clearly demonstrating our understanding of the skills required to successfully implement this initiative,” she said. 

Although specific details about the technology being considered cannot yet be publicly disclosed, it could potentially establish Sundre as “an extremely environmentally friendly” trend setter, she said.  

“It’s really exciting for this community," she said.

Testing, which is not expected to start until 2021, could last anywhere from six to nine months. Although the municipality has until 2025 to be compliant with new regulations, that does not necessarily offer much in the way of wiggle room, she said.    

“You would think so. But on a project of this scale, it doesn’t give us a lot of time," she said.

Having prior experience working on wastewater treatment projects, she said the process is very time consuming and must account for a lengthy list of regulations, which considering the importance of water is of course reasonable.  

Asked whether the municipality had any success with a prior bid to be recognized as a regional service hub, which could open the doors to greater levels of government funding, Nelson said there was no such official designation yet.  

“In my opinion, we already are regional,” she said. “There’s a higher rural population around Sundre than we actually have in our town.”  

From industrial and agricultural operations as well as recreational amenities like campgrounds, to all of the acreages in the surrounding area, plenty of septic waste is sent to Sundre for treatment, she said.   

“Just because we don’t have pipes in the ground, doesn’t mean that we don’t serve the entire region," she said.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.
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