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City of Powell River wastewater treatment plant fully operating

All processing has been consolidated into new Townsite facility

From the large, green inlet pipe into the process building, through to the 800 metres of outfall pipe, City of Powell River’s consolidated wastewater treatment plant is state of the art and fully functioning.

After ground was broken in 2020, construction proceeded at a rapid pace, with the facility now processing all the city’s wastewater.

City manager of engineering services Nagi Rizk, who took the Peak on a tour of the new facility, was able to show in detail the path that wastewater takes from when it enters the facility and is filtered and processed, through to the clarifiers, before being discharged into the ocean.

The wastewater treatment plant is called consolidated because instead of having three city-owned facilities discharging effluent, there is now just one city-owned facility. There have been discussions with Tla’amin Nation to treat that wastewater as well, which would eliminate the four antiquated treatment facilities in qathet region. All three city facilities – the Westview plant, the Townsite plant and the Wildwood lagoon, have been decommissioned, according to Rizk.

The wastewater project was necessitated by the federal government, which, in testing outfalls from the old treatment facilities, found that the water quality did not meet the standard. In a letter, the federal government threatened significant penalties if the city’s wastewater could not be brought into compliance with regulations. This launched the city’s quest for new treatment facilities.

Plans were developed with Associated Engineering and the city applied for grant funding from provincial and federal governments. The city was successful in procuring $56 million from the senior levels of government. The city has also used reserve funds and borrowing of up to $30 million to complete the project.

Rizk said the treatment plant, built by Graham Construction, has been operational for a couple of months now.

“We [city staff] are fully running it,” said Rizk.

The plant is fully functioning, with the exception of the section of the facility for collecting rural septic tank wastewater, which will be connected soon.

A change for treatment plant staff is that they are now testing the effluent. A lab facility has been established in the administration building that has been built on the treatment plant site.

“Our operators are comfortable with it,” said Rizk. “The results are coming out nice and clean for the effluent we are discharging.”

No smell

One of the noticeable features of the treatment plant is that it does not smell. The city has invested in equipment to help minimize odours and none were detectable during the site visit.

Rizk said one of the Townsite residents who had expressed concern about the plant recently stopped by and asked if it was fully operational. Rizk told him it was and that the contractor had left the site. The resident asked if the plant was still in the testing phase and Rizk said it was no longer being tested.

“He [the resident] said he couldn’t hear anything and couldn’t smell a thing,” said Rizk.

City staff are now working to become fully conversant with the facility. Rizk said right now, everyone in the sewer division is being trained at the plant.

“The plan is we want redundancy in the crew,” said Rizk. “We want everybody to be able to do everything as far as their licences allow them.”

The plant is designed to be operated by three or four people full time and is fully staffed on weekdays. For the times when there isn’t a full staff at the facility, the proprietary software provides for warnings to be sent to the phones of staff members, who can then attend to any problems.

“The crews take real pride in their jobs in this new facility,” said Rizk. “They were actually brought in during the design phase.”

This initiative has contributed to the buy-in of staff members, as well as providing input into the design for the wastewater treatment plant, which has been designed to have a 50-year lifespan, said Rizk.

Built for expansion

Because the plant will be working long into the future, and the community is growing, it has been built with expansion in mind. While the facility is not operating at capacity, there is opportunity to build onto the existing infrastructure as the city grows in population. For example, if more treatment cells are required, the plant can be expanded to the north side.

If the city decides it wants to proceed with tertiary treatment, there is space on the south side of the plant for expansion. However, with the various redundancies in place, there is currently more than enough capacity to handle the wastewater flow into the plant.

“The plant is right now treating the entire city at half capacity,” said Rizk. 

Rizk wanted to mention the linear work that allowed the city to convey the flows from the other three plants, and the mutual respect and cooperation the city had with Tla’amin on this phase of the project, specifically. The piping was in the vicinity of some culturally sensitive regions and there was extensive consultation between the two governments to ensure the integrity of culturally sensitive areas was maintained.

The wastewater treatment plant recently received an inspection from the federal government. Rizk said two officials were assigned to the project from day one. One of them was the individual who signed the letter sent to the city, outlining the big fines the city could face if it was not compliant.

“They concluded that it is one of the best facilities they have seen, coast-to-coast,” said Rizk. “That’s straight from the officer who wrote us. We all had big smiles on our faces. I think I can quote him saying that we should be very proud of our accomplishments for the city.

“I’m proud of it and I’m proud of the good people I was blessed to work with.”

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