Wastewater treatment plant deal welcome, but long overdue – Winnipeg Free Press


Opinion

Winnipeg is a city of rivers and Manitoba is a land of lakes. These waterways are a scenic part of daily life that have supported trade, commerce and recreation throughout the province’s history.

In recent decades, they have also been the scene of distressing pollution, due to backward infrastructure and human activity. This month, the three levels of government finally reached an agreement that will help turn the tide on this growing environmental disaster.

The North End Water Pollution Control Center is Winnipeg’s oldest and largest wastewater treatment plant. Built in 1937, it treats 70% of the city’s wastewater. In 2002, the Main Street plant experienced a massive overflow that released 427 million liters of untreated sewage into the Red River over a 57-hour period.

MIKE DEAL / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS KITS

Less than a year after taking office, Prime Minister Heather Stefanson helped push through a deal that seemed doomed to eternal sleep.

The event sparked a provincial investigation that, among other things, called on the city to reduce nutrients from its sewage treatment plants to comply with its permit under the Environment Act.

While improvements have been made to the south and west end processing centers over the past 20 years, the north end plant has languished amid winding funding deals and condemnable political delays – while continuing to pump harmful amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen into Lake Winnipeg via the Red River. Last April, 1.6 billion liters of partially treated sewage spilled into the river during torrential rain.

The facility upgrades are expected to cost $1.8 billion and are expected to be rolled out in three phases.

The first phase, which will improve power supply and sewage pumps, is funded and underway. On August 16, the municipal, provincial and federal governments announced a $552 million three-party agreement to fund the second phase, which includes the construction of a new biosolids facility that promises to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the factory at one milligram per litre. or less.

This is a significant victory for Lake Winnipeg, which once earned the dubious accolade of the world’s most endangered lake, due to its high nutrient loads and recurring giant algae blooms.

The North End Wastewater Treatment Plant is the largest point source of phosphorus entering the lake.

This recent funding agreement is a victory; the fact that it took so long to get here is a shame.

Previous governments have dragged on this expensive but necessary project for years, with former Prime Minister Brian Pallister’s apparent aversion to cooperating with his federal counterparts creating the most recent deadlock. Less than a year after taking office, Prime Minister Heather Stefanson helped push through a deal that seemed doomed to eternal sleep. It’s another example of Ms. Stefanson’s ongoing efforts to distance herself from her predecessor and restore relationships with her municipal and federal counterparts.

The collaboration and forward momentum are cause for celebration, but the project is not moving forward yet. Inflation and increased range have driven up the cost of this phase of upgrades, and it’s unclear who will foot the extra $360 million bill.

Once the shovels are finally in the ground, construction is expected to take at least eight years, during which time severe storms are likely to become more frequent due to climate change, increasing the risk of raw sewage being dumped into our backyards. ‘water.

Officials must seize the momentum and approve funding for the final phase of this integral infrastructure project. Without continued collaboration, the future of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world risks being thrown into the water.

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