City of Powell River staff is seeking council approval to spend close to $1 million to buy new membranes for the Westview wastewater treatment facility.
Staff has recommended that the city purchase and install ZeeWeed 500d membrane modules from GE Water and Process Technologies Canada at a cost not to exceed $920,000, to be funded from the treatment plant membrane reserve fund.
Tor Birtig, director of infrastructure, explained the rationale behind the request at the June 6 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The plant was commissioned in 1998 and has been regularly unable to meet permit requirements set out by the ministry of environment.
In 2004, the city purchased unused membranes from the City of Iqaluit, to replace 25 per cent of the original membranes. In 2006, the city purchased used water treatment membranes from California, which replaced another 25 per cent of the original membranes. In 2008, the city replaced the remaining 50 per cent of the original membranes with used water treatment membranes from California. The total cost for the replacements was $448,700.
Birtig said those membranes are now between five and eight years old. “We’re finding that the treatment process is not meeting the requirements, the membranes are breaking down, there are strands in there that break off and we have to tie them off,” he said. “What that does is deters the treatment process.”
While the city is moving forward on stage three of its liquid waste management plan, it would take three to five years before another treatment option is funded, designed and constructed, Birtig said. “We will have to continue operating this plant,” he said.
Staff is proposing to replace 50 per cent of the membranes with new membranes in order to maintain the process, Birtig added, which will give the facility approximately five to eight years of life. Staff is also proposing to take the best of the membranes for the remaining 50 per cent, Birtig said. “Those ones will give us approximately two to five years, depending on the operation that we have in there.”
Councillor Maggie Hathaway asked how much more out of compliance the city would be if the membranes weren’t replaced. “It seems like a lot of money for a band aid,” she said.
Birtig said the plant would go further out of compliance, but to what extent, he couldn’t say. “It’s pretty hard to predict, but we would go further out of compliance and therefore we’re not meeting our permit requirements, because we’re not doing our best to provide as much treatment as we’re required to do.”
Even with the purchase of the new membranes, the plant would still not be in compliance with its permit because it doesn’t have the capacity to meet its permit requirements, Birtig also said.
Mac Fraser, chief administrative officer, said to have a reserve that is fully funded and not change the membranes, would be more than just being out of compliance. “That would be willful neglect, from the ministry’s perspective,” he said. “If we didn’t mean to spend it, we shouldn’t have put money in the reserve. But now that the reserve’s in there, it is sort of a tenant of municipal law that if you had the money, you said you were going to spend it on something, you didn’t spend it and there’s a consequence. You’re at risk of the full weight of the court.”
The Peak asked if the city has tests that show the plant is less able to treat sewage. Frank D’Angio, acting manager of engineering services, replied in an email that the city has testing that shows production through the membranes has been reduced by approximately 30 per cent over the last four years.
The Peak also asked if the ministry has given the city any further direction other than the requirement to complete a liquid waste management plan.
D’Angio replied that in the city’s latest quarterly reporting response from the ministry, it stated that “the city is out of compliance” and the ministry expects that the “permittee will be in compliance with the permit conditions at all times and that you take the necessary steps to resolve this issue.”
That is a standard comment that has been in all the ministry’s responses as far back as 2011. The city has been in the liquid waste management planning process since 1998.
Council is expected to consider the recommendation at the June 20 meeting.