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Winnipeg facing billions in upgrade costs to wastewater treatment systems

Jean Sorensen
Winnipeg facing billions in upgrade costs to wastewater treatment systems
City of Winnipeg - Upgrades to Winnipeg’s North End Wastewater Pollution Control Centre are estimated at $1.4 billion.

The City of Winnipeg is facing almost $3 billion in needed upgrades and expansions of its wastewater treatment and city collection system as it attempts to deal with end-of-life equipment needs and also meet new provincial standards for emptying wastewater into public water bodies.

“I think mostly it is the provincial regulations which have changed and that is causing us to change how we operate,” said city counsellor Brian Mayes, who chairs the environment committee responsible for city’s water and waste department.

“But, it is not all the result of regulation, as the North End treatment plant has some equipment that is reaching end-of-life and a couple of hundreds of million dollars of upgrades are needed.”

The upgrade cost at the city’s North End Wastewater Pollution Control Centre (NEWPCC), which handles 70 per cent of the city’s wastewater, is estimated is now at $1.4 billion, while upgrading the city’s storm sewer system is pegged at $1.3 billion as well. The city is in the midst of an upgrade of its south end wastewater treatment plant at cost of $335 million.

Duane Griffin, branch head of Winnipeg’s water planning and project delivery, said fortunately the city has an extended timeline to accommodate the vast sewer collection system upgrade and it can parcel out the work to meet new regulations.

“We have 27 years,” he said. However, Winnipeg is moving forward on its master plan (due for completion in 2019) which involves remedies such as sewer separation. The city is also spending close to $30 million annually upgrading the lines in city areas.

The North End plant is a different story. Mayes said: “The North End plant is the biggest hot potato — it will be the largest capital expenditure in the history of city of Winnipeg.” It is a project that has been under discussion for the past decade and equipment at the facility is reaching end of life in 2019.

“We are clearly not going to make that,” he said as city approval has been given to the concept of upgrading the plant but no actual plan.

Funding remains a problem. “We have set aside $795 million,” said Mayes. “We will be seeking help from both levels of government (provincial and federal).”

There are two other challenges facing the rebuilt, said Mayes. He said the council needs to decide how to go forward on the proposal to upgrade the NEWPCC (doing the end of life replacement only or a complete upgrade). He also wants to see a decision made before the October fall elections which could mean a council change with different priorities. Once a decision is made on how to proceed, Mayes said he expects his committee will approach federal and provincial governments for financial support.

“Later this summer we need to make a decision,” he said.

A portion of the NEWPCC rebuild has already started. Jackie Veilleux, the city’s project manager for sewage treatment projects, said the upgrade of the North End plant would require more power to facilitate enhanced nutrient extraction. As a result, the city has commissioned a new $50 million power plant. In February, Black M. McDonald, a construction company that specializes in high voltage construction projects, was awarded the contract as the preferred proponent to design build the power plant upgrade project. The agreed contract was for $35 million for the two year project.

The upgrade to meet provincial licence requirements will see the NEWPCC remove more nitrogen and phosphate from wastewater material and halt it from entering waterways where it can provide unwanted plant or algae growth. The city has provided an indicative design concept of what it wants in a plant but the contract, when it is let, will be design-build.

Veilleux said the upgrade envisioned by the city would use the Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies system to recover phosphates and turn it into a saleable pelletized fertilizer. She said the city also wants to integrate a thermal hydraulic digester system that will allow end-product sludge material to have reduced pathogens and be usable ground cover on flower beds.

“Almost 80 per cent of the process is going to be brand new,” Veilleux said, adding that while end-of-life equipment is being replaced, the ancillary equipment meshing with the new equipment also needs upgrading.

“We are budgeting for a new screening and grit system,” she said, adding that once the new equipment is installed there will be more stringent screening required.

Also, a new pump station and greater intake feed required. The plant will also provide for wet weather flow — that short rush of water that occurs annually when winter snow in the city thaws. Unless the city can release water, the system will be overwhelmed, she said.

She said several reports on how the project could proceed and where it stands financially have been filed with the city’s finance committee. One of the considerations is building the project in phases. “That is under review,” she said.

While consideration is given to the NEWPCC rebuild, she said her department still has much to keep it busy.

“We have another $335 million project under construction,” she said.

The South End sewage treatment plant, which handles 20 per cent of the city’s wastewater, is currently undergoing a major expansion and upgrade. In addition to the odour control stack and the thermal oxidizer unit, a new bio-filter system is being added. Concentrated foul air sources from a new sludge thickening system and new sludge fermenters will be sent to the facility’s bio-filter for treatment.

Bio filtration is a biological process that converts odour-causing compounds into non-odorous gases and salts. The biofilter system will be housed in a concrete enclosure. The $180 million contract for the work went to Morriston, Ont.-based NAC Constructors, the lowest bidder on a job which will prepare the concrete foundations for buildings and infrastructure for equipment to be installed.

A smaller third plant, which takes only 10 per cent of the city’s wastewater, has already undergone an upgrade.

The longer upgrade facing the city centres on its combined sewers, which make up approximately 31 per cent of the city’s system and are in the older city sections. Normally, water run-off from heavy melts or rain and sewage go through the treatment plants prior to release into public waterways. However, during peak run-off periods which overwhelm the treatment plants’ ability, untreated material is discharged into public water bodies.

The city has until 2045 to reduce the amount of untreated sewage it dumps into the city’s rivers by 85% under a new directive by the province of Manitoba. It needs to have a comprehensive plan in place by Aug. 31, 2019 to meet the target date. The directive by the province also condenses its previous timeline from 40-year plan to 27 years. The cost of upgrading the system and reaching the reduced figure is $1.3 billion.

“Right now, we have 43 different districts and many still have combined sewer networks,” said Griffin. The city will be looking at different technologies and separation to meet the provincial demands. He said the city will also looking at strategies for capturing the large volume of run-off water that occurs through the use of underground tanks to better control flows, lands where water can be held to naturally percolate or evaporate and bioswale treatments.

Griffin said the city started implementing strategies that will be outlined in the master plan by focusing on sewer and storm sewer separation. “That activity is going on with the city,” he said. Approximately $30 million annually in work is being spent annually.

Private contractors are carrying out the work, he said, and jobs are being posted on


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