Short and long term solutions to the Town of Sylvan Lake’s ongoing wastewater challenges were the topic of conversation during a special Meeting of Council held at the Municipal Government Building on Monday evening.
Director of Public Works, Dave Brand, presented Town Council with what has been done so far to address the challenges the municipality currently faces, as well as options to address the issue of waste water in the coming years. Brand explained the Town is working with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) to obtain conducive test results and a license to allow the release of the effluent this spring.
Waste water and sewage from Sylvan Lake is presently pumped to a waste management facility often referred to as sewage lagoons. Once in the lagoons, the waste water is required to past fish lethality tests. The tests require the waste water to be low in ammonia with high biological oxygen levels in order to receive a pass. If the tests pass, the Town then discharges the accumulative waste water bi-annually into an entity known as Sylvan Creek. Because this body of water has a very low and often non-existent flow, AEP applies the strongest conditions to the Town’s waste water before it is able to be released to minimize environmental damage.
In July of 2016, the municipality was faced with a waste water crisis after the lagoons nearly reached capacity due to the inability to release earlier that year due to failed test results. A public request from the Town was issued to residents, businesses, adjacent summer villages and visitors to voluntarily reduce waste water usage.
On July 15, upon receiving a passing result for acute lethality the discharge of the lagoons began from one of the cells at the facility at a rate of approximately 10,000 m3/day, which was the rate required to lower the lagoons to a winter level and to provide for maximum dilution over a twenty week period. Coinciding with the waste-water release was the pumping of stormwater captured within storage ponds into the receiving ditch to provide dilution of the released effluent.
Town staff identified an optimum location along the lake where water may be diverted into Sylvan Creek, which eventually flows to the lagoon discharge area, offering an uninterrupted supply of water for dilution purposes. The Town later contracted ISL Engineering to conduct a waste water quality analysis with the direction to provide a short and a long term solution to waste water quality.
To date, a number of improvements have been made at the waste water management facility to provide short term solutions. Solar aerators were ordered over the winter, which Town staff hope will lead to lower ammonia levels during test time and a fourth blower motor was also added to increase aeration, in addition to burm upgrades on one of the cells to allow more storage.
“The first thing we need to do as an administration is tell AEP what we are doing, what we have in place, that we’re ready to go and this is how we’re going to comply with the federal regulations in 2017,” Brand told Council. “That should allow us to obtain our operating approval renewal. Then we head into the discharge period where the rubber hits the road and we have to meet those regulations.”
Brand explained the Public Works department plans to again utilize the lake water diversion method which showed success in the past. He explained they will also be implementing more proactive testing methods including earlier sampling which will allow for a potential early release if the test passes.
While these measures will hopefully allow for short term viability, Brand detailed to Council the need for a long term solution. He explained the Town must develop a plan which doesn’t require the use of Sylvan Creek, as chronic dumping will inevitably lead to ecological changes.
Brand proposed to Council a number of long term solutions including the construction of a $95 million pipeline which would see waste water transported from Sylvan Lake to Red Deer. Another solution posed was the construction of a reclaimed water system known as ‘Purple Pipe’. The system sees former waste water and sewage being treated to remove solids and impurities then reused for irrigation and/or commerical and residential use.
The Public Works Director described the purple pipe option as ‘the ultimate in sustainability’. However, he emphasized the need for an official long term feasibility study to be conducted to ensure the best possible option is chosen for the Town of Sylvan and residents of the municipality.
“We need to protect human health and the environment,” said Brand.