Fernie sewage treatment facilities not keeping up with demand – The Free Press

Fernie could be the proverbial brook.

A growing population exceeds the capacity of the city’s dilapidated sewage treatment facilities, putting the city out of compliance with provincial regulations and exposing it to regulatory action.

During a presentation to the Committee of the Whole on April 19, city staff presented an introduction to an upcoming request for council’s decision on what to do about Fernie’s sewage treatment capacity, with the potential for a complete reconstruction of the sewage treatment plant on the table as a solution.

According to staff, the existing sewage treatment plant south of Fernie is overflowing and open to the river due to overstretched staff, overwhelmed and dilapidated facilities and high population growth.

Currently, the city has a permit to discharge treated effluent into the river between 45 and 90 days per year. However, with the facility straining under demand, it was open for over 50% of 2019, nearly 70% of 2020, and nearly 80% of 2021.

Currently, it has been open to the river since October 1, 2021 and it may not be possible to close it to the river again, according to staff.

Discharged effluents are treated according to provincial standards. It’s not a raw sewer.

The situation has arisen due to faster-than-expected population growth, a large “ghost population” of residents not accounted for in official census data, a decaying infrastructure further affected by system inadequacies and an overworked municipal staff having more work piled on to deal with emerging issues.

“The gap between crew capacity and increasing maintenance demands is widening with growing populations and aging infrastructure pushing in opposite directions,” the report said.

The cost of keeping the river open 365 days a year is $120,000 a year for chemicals to treat the effluent so it can be discharged. There is also potential for regulatory action from the province, which sent a warning letter to the city about the issue in late 2020, requesting information on what the city planned to do about the problem. to resolve.

For now, staff will seek permission to hire additional workers to help run the existing facility at an additional cost of $210,000, which would require an immediate increase in utility rates for residents.

However, a larger and more expensive solution may be required.

According to another staff report on city compliance, “it is no longer possible to meet regulatory compliance requirements until a significant system upgrade.”

A similar issue faced by the City of Kimberley resulted in a replacement cost of $95 million, with that item set to be put to a referendum in the upcoming municipal elections this fall. Two-thirds should be covered by grants.

Acting operations manager Mark Rowlands said a rebuild is the preferred option over inadequate interim fixes.

“My instinct is that you want to do it right – you don’t want to do a patchwork of things that fail in the future. (Cost) will come in quite significantly at the end. A possible reconstruction, I would lean 60, 70% towards that.

City Council will make a decision on whether to hire additional wastewater treatment operators to run the system as is on April 25, as the city prepares for further discussions on what to do long-term on the basis of studies on the issue.


scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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