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July 14, 2024

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By Suzanne Forcese

On World Water Day, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF) and The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) have released a report recommending an interim retrofit to Winnipeg's largest sewage treatment plant. This retrofit could be implemented quickly and at low cost to significantly reduce the facility's phosphorus contribution to Lake Winnipeg.

Excess phosphorus, as documented by IISD Experimental Lakes Area research, is causing potentially toxic algal blooms in freshwater lakes. "To restore the health of Lake Winnipeg, we must reduce phosphorus loading from all sources" Alexis Kanu, Executive Director of the lake Winnipeg Foundation told WaterToday . That includes undertreated sewage from urban centres. Winnipeg's North End Water Pollution Control Centre (NEWPCC) is the single largest point source of phosphorus flowing into Lake Winnipeg, a lake plagued with algae, and the fourth largest phosphorus polluter among all wastewater treatment facilities in Canada. The NEWPCC treats approximately 70% of the city's wastewater, releasing an average of 600 kg of phosphorous into the Red River every single day.

Under its provincial operating licence the City of Winnipeg must reduce phosphorus in NEWPCC effluent to 1 milligram per litre (mg/L), based on a 30-day rolling average, by Dec. 31, 2019. In 2017, phosphorus concentrations in NEWPCC effluent averaged 3.54 mg/L.

The City has committed to fully upgrade the NEWPCC. However, the project has been repeatedly delayed. On Feb 28, 2019, city council approved a plan to split the planned NEWPCC upgrade into 3 phases. Nutrient removal is the third phase and action is not projected to start before 2030. The report also explicitly states the city intends to request yet another alteration of its provincial operating licence in advance of the Dec 31, 2019 deadline.

"We are not likely to see the environmental effects of this for 10 years. We simply cannot wait. Immediate action is required." Kanu stated. The retrofit being proposed by LWF and IISD uses a chemical called ferric chloride, a type of iron salt, as a phosphorus-removal agent.

The NEWPCC currently uses ferric chloride as part of its operations to reduce odour and keep pipes clean, but does not currently use it to remove phosphorus from wastewater stream. By adjusting the timing and dose of ferric chloride in the treatment process, phosphorus in the NEWPCC infrastructure could be completed at low cost by Dec 31, 2019, meeting the provincial phosphorus limit.

"Many jurisdictions throughout the Great Lakes Region use ferric chloride in their wastewater treatment process to remove phosphorus. Not only are they meeting a limit of 0.3 mg/L" says Dimple Roy, Director of Water Management at IISD, "but some facilities are voluntarily challenging themselves to meet a limit."

The use of ferric chloride in jurisdictions around Lake Erie has enabled them to meet the phosphorus limit of 1mg/L with some plants now aiming for a 0.3mg/L.

"Installing an interim ferric system at the Winnipeg's North End plant would result in a substantial reduction of phosphorus. When you are talking about bang for your buck, this is a quick fix for a quick win." added Dr. Glen Daigger, Professor of Engineering Practice and Researcher with the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Just how much of a bang for the buck? While costs for a full plant upgrade are pegged at $1.8 billion, the interim retrofit represents a cost-effective solution to ensure the city is meeting provincial phosphorus requirements to protect Lake Winnipeg. Cost considerations for the retrofit include a one-time construction cost of $3 million and annual operating cost of $2 million.

"It's a win-win-win," says Kanu. The NEWPCC can implement phosphorus reduction measures before the licence deadline, ensuring compliance and fulfilling long-lasting commitments to protect Lake Winnipeg. The City of Winnipeg will demonstrate civic leadership by protecting Lake Winnipeg for future generations while also complying with provincial phosphorus requirements in a cost effective, efficient manner. The Province of Manitoba will fulfill its responsibility to safeguard Lake Winnipeg, providing effective regulatory oversight while maintaining a focus on value-for-money. And Lake Winnipeg will benefit from a significant reduction in phosphorus loading from the single largest point source of this algae-causing nutrient. "Water quality improvements will benefit the families, communities and industries that rely on this beloved lake." Cause for World Water Day Celebrations in Manitoba!

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF) advocates for change and coordinates action to improve the health of Lake Winnipeg. LWF's flagship initiative the Lake Winnipeg Health Plan, is a set of eight evidence based actions to reduce phosphorus loading By addressing the root causes of potentially harmful algae blooms, the plan provides a blueprint for cost-effective decision making and long term adaptive fresh water management.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an independent think tank championing sustainable solutions to 21st century problems. IISD's work affects economies, communities, ecosystems and lives in nearly 100 countries. IISD's team includes chemists and biologist, economists and engineers, editors and reports. Part scientist, part strategist, IISd delivers the knowledge to act.


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