Port Alberni’s new sewage lagoon is getting closer to being operational.
The city purchased the lagoon from Catalyst Paper in 2012 for $5.75 million—taken from borrowing— because its existing lagoon had reached capacity. The 13.4 hectare facility also came with 3.9 hectares of land that included space for an industrial road.
The city’s wastewater advisory committee met with representatives from the Ministry of Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in mid-January to discuss a key part of stage two of the Liquid Waste Management Plan.
In order to fall under provincial regulations for wastewater management, municipalities must ensure that their sewage treatment systems have a suitable effluent discharge pipe.
“After treatment, we discharge [treated wastewater] into the inlet,” said city engineer Guy Cicon, who sits on the wastewater advisory committee.
“Right now, the lagoon has just a little side discharge.”
The new municipal wastewater regulation requires a designed discharge that ensures suitable dilution and disinfection of the discharged wastewater. The city, like many other municipalities, aerates its wastewater.
“We presented an option that is the most sensitive for the salmon,” said Cicon, adding that the city has always pushed for “recognition that the salmon is the most valuable resource that we have in the (Alberni) Inlet.”
Due to that focus, Cicon said that the option that the city came up with “conflicts with the MoE’s regulation on the discharge depth.”
The MoE regulations require the discharge depth to be 10 metres below the surface.
While the precise location for the discharge pipe has yet to be determined, studies conducted by DFO and the city show that the ideal depth to affect the salmon fishery the least is shallower than the MoE regulation depth.
Although the city doesn’t have the go-ahead for the shallower depth, Cicon said they have MoE’s “appreciation of the evaluation of all of our options.”
Going beyond the salmon, having properly treated and discharged wastewater is especially important given the location of the new sewage lagoon just south of the city’s existing sewage lagoon within the Somass Estuary, a biologically sensitive location.
“This is one of the most biodiverse estuaries on the continent,” said Cicon.
While neither the old nor new sewage lagoon are ideally placed, they’ve been there for close to half a century and it made more financial sense to purchase the old Catalyst lagoon than to build a new facility in a different location.
Purchasing the old lagoon also meant the city could take advantage of an $11.2M federal grant to upgrade both its existing lagoon the former Catalyst one.
The city has been working on developing a discharge pipe that meets both the provincial guidelines and its unique environmental needs for the past year.
Once the design is agreed upon, the city will move onto “the more detailed design of the improvements to the [former] Catalyst lagoon.”
While consultants have recommended ceasing the use of the city’s current lagoon, Cicon believes that “it’s a good vessel in the treatment chain.”
Switching, whether fully or partially, over to the new sewage lagoon will be dependent on the environment ministry’s approval of the effluent discharge pipe. Final documentation and reports will be sent to the MoE by March. While more work still needs to be done prior to the final building stage and then implementation of the Liquid Waste Management Plan, Cicon said that the effluent discharge pipe was the “biggest stumbling block for moving forward with stage two.”