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Castlegar working on sewage plant problems

The City of Castlegar says it’s working with a consultant to address several problems with its sewage treatment system identified by provincial and federal inspectors.

The city’s south sewage treatment plant and north sewage lagoon have been inspected four times in the last year, twice by Environment Canada and twice by the provincial Ministry of Environment.

The first inspection, in October 2021, was in response to a complaint, but the other inspections in June and July of this year were routine.

The city received a warning letter on June 22 of this year from the Ministry of Environment spelling out four areas of non-compliance:

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  • No effluent flow meter
  • Twice exceeding discharge allowances and failing to report them
  • Inadequate storage of biosolids on site
  • No annual reports covering the period Sept. 1, 2020 to May 31, 2022

The city was required to respond within 30 days advising what was being done to fix the problems and make sure they didn’t happen again.

The city hired municipal consultant Urban Systems and submitted its plan on July 5. Council was told last week the missing meter will be installed by year’s end, all required reporting has now been submitted, and a request for proposals has been issued to deal with the biosolids.

Wastewater specialist Joanne Quarmby told council the missing meter was due to changing standards. When the south treatment plant was built in 1974, it was not required to have one.

She said because the plant operates under a permit rather than municipal waste water regulations, the city would not necessarily know about certain regulatory changes until an inspector pointed them out.

She also said excessive discharges are common on ministry inspections and in this case represented a small fraction of the total data collected.

“These ministry inspection reports focus on non-compliance,” she said. “They don’t focus on compliance and what you’re doing well. Out of data points where three per cent of the samples have failed, they don’t recognize 97 per cent have passed.”

Quarmby said there are many reasons a sample can fail, including limitations with sampling methodology. Not all necessarily indicate an effluent problem, she said, describing the city’s discharges as “a low concern.”

“The ministry has to point them out, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s some sort of issue going on with your plant,” she said.

Councillor Maria McFaddin asked if any of the problems could have resulted in bad smells. Quarmby replied that only the biosolid storage was a possibility.

The city has known about the latter issue for some time, municipal services manager Chris Hallam said. The request for proposals to deal with it closes Sept. 22 and he hopes to bring a recommendation to council before the end of the year.

The lack of annual reports was an oversight due to staff turnover, he added, but they have since been submitted and a template created to use from now on. The city did not have a chronic problem in this area, he said.

Environment Canada’s inspection on June 7 of the north sewage lagoon also found four areas of non-compliance, including inadequate site drainage and improper dechlorination. The city was required to have a plan to fix things in place by Aug. 1 and implement it by Dec. 1. The plan was submitted July 29.

Matthew Smith of Urban Systems said when the plant was built, chlorine disinfection was required. The city’s operating permit still requires chlorine residual in effluent greater than what has been allowed by federal regulations since 2014.

A final inspection by the Ministry of Environment of the north lagoon on July 28 did not flag any problems immediately, but a final report is pending.

Some of the problems are expected to be addressed in the city’s forthcoming liquid waste management plan, which will examine options to upgrade each of the facilities or consolidate them into a single one.

“Castlegar is at a point where you need to make a once-in-a-generation decision,” Smith said. “That is what the plan is for.”

The measures to date are intended to address operational issues for the next five to 10 years, he said, but don’t answer the bigger questions.

Mayor Kirk Duff said the fact other municipalities face similar findings when their plants are inspected “in itself is not very comforting. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about it.”

But he insisted the city was doing “a great job” given the age of the plants.

“By no means has any of this been purposely or intentionally kept away from the public. It doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made, but it’s not malicious. It’s accidental or unintentional and it’s fixable.”

The long-term fix won’t come cheap, Duff said, regardless of how they decide to handle it.

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