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City of Port Alberni gets serious about sewage with $65M infrastructure commitment

Untreated sewage released into Alberni Harbour as many as 171 days a year
Tugboats float the outfall for the City of Port Alberni’s wastewater treatment plant out into Alberni Harbour. (CITY OF PORT ALBERNI PHOTO)

The City of Port Alberni is committing to spending $65 million over the next 50 years to stop the release of untreated sewage into the Alberni Inlet.

During a virtual council meeting on Sept. 7, director of engineering Rob Dickinson explained to council that the city has a combined stormwater and wastewater sewage system. Normally, the system carries everything to the city’s wastewater treatment facility. But during high levels of rain, the increased flow is too much for the pumps to handle and sewage overflows through the outfalls into the harbour.

The city has four outfalls into the Alberni Inlet that release untreated sewage into Alberni Harbour as many as 171 days a year, said Dickinson. In 2020, an estimated 17 billion litres of liquid waste was released in 81 days.

The combined sewer overflow (or CSO) was first introduced in urban areas throughout Canada in the late 1800s as an improvement to open ditches. Most urban areas that were developed before the 1940s—including Port Alberni—are serviced by CSOs.

Provincial and federal regulations now require the city to eliminate CSOs. The city will do this by separating its stormwater and wastewater, installing a second pipe into the ground so that one pipe is dedicated to stormwater and one to wastewater. The city began separating the systems in the early 2000s, and one CSO outfall has been eliminated, but four remain.

On Sept. 7, city council committed to spending $1.3 million annually, starting in 2022, to separate stormwater and wastewater within the next 50 years. The city will also be installing monitoring equipment, signage and a webpage to alert the public and Environment Canada of wastewater overflows.

The City will also engage an engineering firm to prioritize CSO separation projects for the next five years, with a conceptual strategy for completion of the CSO separation in the next 50 years.

“I was actually really shocked to hear the amount of times that this is happening,” said Mayor Sharie Minions on Sept. 7. “And I don’t think the general public is aware of how that system operates.”

The cost for the separation will come from taxpayers through sewer fees, but Dickinson said he is hoping there will be some grant funding opportunities coming soon.

READ MORE: City approves $10M to finish Port Alberni’s wastewater treatment plant

The city’s new wastewater treatment plan is almost finished. The new lagoon still needs to be tied into the current sewer system, and decommissioning and remediation of the old lagoon still needs to take place, said Dickinson. During Monday’s meeting, council approved an additional $3.12M for the wastewater treatment plant project, bringing the project to a total cost of $41M.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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