Liquid waste filtration study receives thumbs down from Powell River city council

Sustainability committee recommends hiring firm to look at wastewater

City of Powell River Council has rejected a recommendation from its sustainability committee for a study into a microfibre filtration system for the planned liquid waste treatment plant.

At its meeting on Thursday, June 20, council received a recommendation that a study be done by Associated Engineering for the wastewater treatment plan on the ability and associated costs of making the facility capable of adapting to a microfibre filtration system, after the fact, should it be mandated in the future, with funds of up to $20,000 to come from the climate action reserve fund to cover the study costs. Associated Engineering is the consultant working on the design for the liquid waste treatment plant.

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Councillor Rob Southcott said there has been a lot of discussion about this in council previously. The thought in this recommendation is to anticipate what is likely coming in the future, he said. The plan for the treatment plant does not explicitly include filtering for plastic microfibres.

“There aren’t government-mandated standards yet,” said Southcott. “There have been studies for years on this but it really hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.”

According to Southcott, the recommendation is for the purpose of making sure, should the city be required to add technology to the wastewater treatment plant, that the plant would not have to go through extensive alterations to do that.

Southcott said the climate action reserve fund was set up two years ago to facilitate that kind of purpose.

Councillor Jim Palm said he had a bit of a problem with the timing outlined in the resolution.

“Are you asking for Associated Engineering to do a study now before we get the funding or are you asking for some time down the road if the province says we have to make an adaption, asking for the $20,000 at that period of time?” asked Palm.

Southcott said it is to do the study now because the study could end up altering the plan Associated Engineering has already created for the city.

“The reason why we want to do that is to anticipate what might be required in the future, and to do that so we don’t have to make retroactive changes,” said Southcott.

He said an analogy would be the requirement in the city for new houses to be ready for electric vehicle wiring and solar hot water plumbing, which costs considerably less to install in the construction phase than to retrofit.

“We want to design the sewage treatment plant and just make sure we are not going to have to spend a whole lot of extra money, once we get it built, if this [microfibre filtration] is required.

Palm said he had to speak against the motion because there are some serious ramifications around the city’s funding application and where the city is in the process right now.

“I talked to the engineering department, which has great concerns,” said Palm.

He said that at a recent presentation by Associated Engineering to the city, the matter of microfibres was discussed and they advised it wasn’t wise to go down that road at this time. The engineer was approached after the meeting and was asked how much that study would cost, according to Palm. He advised that it would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

“This is something the governments have to do a great deal of study around,” said Palm. “Right now they don’t know what the greatest source of microfibres is. It’s an open question for debate at this period of time.

“I don’t want to spend $20,000 and jeopardize our funding application, which is at the 13th hour. I would like the sustainability committee to stay on the track they are presently on, which is they have drafted a resolution for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to take this forward to a provincial body, which then, if passed, can take it to the federal level, which is the appropriate process we should be following.”

Councillor Cindy Elliott asked if there had been any environmental monitoring done, measuring what quantity of microfibres were leaching into the environment through effluent.

qathet Regional District Let’s Talk Trash team member Ingalisa Burns, present at the council meeting, said there had been a 2016 study in Okeover Inlet that looked at the presence of microfibres over a six-month period. She said they were present in all of the oysters investigated in the study.

Southcott said he did not think the recommendation would threaten the timeline of the proposal for the treatment plant.

“The way I read this recommendation, I would expect Associated Engineering, being the size of company they are, to be able to encompass a request like this in addition to the work they are already doing,” said Southcott. “If they can’t do this in a timely way so it would delay the completion of our system, certainly there’s concern there, but I don’t read that. I read this as consideration to give us the chance to save money in the future if this becomes a concern.”

Councillor George Doubt said there is currently no standard for separation of microfibres. He said there is no standard the engineers can design to deal with microfibres because the standard does not exist.

“To suggest they should design a piece of equipment that will filter wastewater to a standard that doesn’t exist will be especially difficult,” said Doubt. “It will be, frankly, speculation, on what might possibly happen in the future. I think we’d be spending $20,000 down the pipe with no measurable gain.”

Mayor Dave Formosa said what he is hearing from the city’s engineering department is a concern.

“The other thing I heard from the [Associated Engineering] engineer is they can take our money and do something but we have to do it on a bunch of assumptions,” said Formosa. “There are no regulations. If it becomes a standard that is going to be required, or we feel there is more science to it, we can add it on. At this time, the engineer recommends we don’t do it.”

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