Town at ‘crisis point’ with wastewater lagoons

Director of Public Works Dave Brand presented to Council during the emergency session on Tuesday, July 12.

Town of Sylvan Lake Director of Public Works Dave Brand presented difficult news about the Town's wastewater lagoons on July 13.

Town of Sylvan Lake Director of Public Works Dave Brand presented difficult news about the Town's wastewater lagoons on July 13.

“We are at a crisis point in our community where we need everyone to work together to reduce our sewer flow,” Mayor Sean McIntyre said after an emergency meeting of Town Council. “It will help us avoid a major emergency.”

This crisis situation comes after the Town of Sylvan Lake was unable to perform its biannual release of treated effluent into Cygnet Creek from its lagoons. The Town was unable to do so because of 2015 changes to Environment Canada Fisheries Act, which requires a fish lethality test to be below 50 per cent. The 96-hour test performed by the Town’s Public Works led to 2/3 failed tests with scores of 70, 100, and 40 per cent respectively, meaning that effluent could not be released. If the Town were to ignore this Federal regulation, they could face prosecution that could include warnings, severe fines and even jail time.

As a result of this test, the town faces a capacity crisis.

Director of Public Works for the Town of Sylvan Lake Dave Brand presented to Council during the emergency session on Tuesday, July 12.

“We certainly have a crisis in our waste water treatment lagoon system, whereby we no longer have capacity,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with recent rainfall that has occurred, but also our inability to comply with new federal regulations that came into place in 2015 with respect to how the effluent has an effect on fish populations.

“Council has approved some motions and have directed staff to approach the provincial regulators.”

Brand added that the Town’s administration, under direction from Council, will seek expedited approvals on how to seek alternative solutions which will protect the environment during the release of the effluent.

Several possible solutions to help avoid an environmentally disastrous overflow or breach of the lagoons were moved by Council. These solutions are all being presented to Alberta Environment and Parks on July 13. Please take note that approval of these motions doesn’t guarantee that they will be used, and that a combination of these solutions will likely be necessary.

  • Request a continuous discharge of effluent until Nov. 30, 2016 into Cygnet Creek
  • A temporary diversion of Sylvan Lake into Cygnet Creek to provide more water flow to properly dilute the effluent
  • The ability to irrigate surface lands to reduce effluent into Cygnet Creek
  • The ability to haul effluent to the City of Red Deer Waste Water treatment facilities
  • A written letter from the province in support of the Town’s discharge plan
  • That a chemical stabilization treatment be considered to help reduce the lethal effects of the affluent
  • To allow the use of the decommissioned Cell 6 lagoon to be used to temporarily store waste water

With these proposals being sent to the province, it is also important that Sylvan Lakers voluntarily limit their water use. A detailed plan will be released shortly, however Mayor McIntyre did have a few suggestions to help alleviate this crisis situation.

“Well right now we are asking for the help of every Sylvan Laker to do everything they can to reduce their sewage flow. That includes getting creative,” Mayor McIntyre said. “Small things like shutting off your water while you are brushing your teeth, but also turning off the water while you are in the shower and washing your dishes in a bowl and then dumping it outside.

He added it is the Town’s very last resort to allow an uncontrolled release of effluent into the environment – something that not only would be disastrous environmentally, but also legally as well.

“The fisheries act is very clear about jail times and fines and they can be quite extensive – hence why we have sought a legal opinion,” Brand said. “We need to do everything we can do to protect the environment because it is the right thing to do.”

He added that Sylvan Lake is not the only municipality in Central Alberta that has faced Federal prosecution for this issue and hopes that the Federal regulators will work alongside the town in order to “help us come in line with what the expectations are.”

He reinforced that if it does come to effluent needing to be released into the environment, something that Council approved in order to avoid an uncontrolled infrastructure breach, “we will do everything in our power to mitigate the effects of that.”

McIntyre added that “we absolutely don’t want that so we are looking for our residents to help in every way they can.”

Council did briefly discuss with administration the need for a new long term waste-water management system, however such a large project would require years of planning and federal and provincial financial support – making it irrelevant to the current crisis situation.