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Water Today Title February 29, 2024

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The Region's Duffin Creek Plant is the first wastewater treatment facility in Canada
to achieve LEED Gold Certification for excellence for environmental building design

By Suzanne Forcese

“In 2021, the average household cost for water and wastewater services for York Region was $1,027 (or less than $3 a day). Spending $1 will buy one plastic bottle of water. Spending $3 buys 630 bottles of clean, safe tap water.”-- Wendy Kemp, Director, Infrastructure Management, Public Works for York Region

WATERTODAY reached out to Wendy Kemp to learn about York Region’s commitment to providing safe, reliable, quality drinking water to more than 1.2 million people while simultaneously protecting the natural environment.

WT: What is the source of drinking water for the York Region?

Kemp: York Region’s water comes from three sources: Lake Ontario, Lake Simcoe, and groundwater wells. The majority (over 96%) is from Lake Ontario via the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel. The remainder of York Region’s needs is supplied by 40 wells scattered throughout the Region; some are blended with lake water.

Every day, York Region collects, treats and stores more than 325 million litres of drinking water.

In turn, the nine local cities and towns purchase water from York Region, deliver it to homes and businesses in their community and collect money to cover the cost of these services.

WT: Please describe the water treatment process.

Kemp: Before reaching our taps, water is treated to make it safe to drink

York Region monitors water quality around the clock to ensure compliance with the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards which identify more than 100 criteria for safe consumption limits; these criteria are revised frequently by the province to reflect new scientific findings or concerns.

The Georgina WTP Photo Courtesy The Regional Municipality of York

Treated water from Lake Ontario is purchased and delivered by the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel to support York Region’s systems. Water from Lake Simcoe undergoes multi-stage treatment at the Keswick and Georgina Water Treatment plants. At these WTPs, an intake pipe extends into the lake to draw water to the plant, screens are in place to remove debris. Raw lake water is then passed through filtration to remove contaminants. The water also passes through membranes and ultraviolet light reactors that destroy any remaining bacteria. The water then passes through activated-carbon filter beds that take out any taste and odour-causing molecules. Finally, chlorine is added to protect water from any bacteria that might reside in pipes during its journey to residents and businesses. Groundwater is treated with disinfection and iron sequestration, supported by a robust source water protection plan.

WT: When our lakes are the source of our drinking water, we need to understand how critical it is that what we put into our lakes affects our drinking water. How is the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant also an integral part of ensuring clean safe drinking water?

The Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant The Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant is a top performing wastewater treatment facility located on the shores of Lake Ontario in the City of Pickering. This wastewater treatment facility is part of the York Durham Sewage System and is a result of the province’s long-term vision to grow and service these two Regions.

Kemp: 80% of wastewater treated at this facility is from York Region residents and businesses; 20% is from residents and businesses in the Town of Ajax and the City of Pickering in the Durham Region.

York also treats wastewater at 7 satellite plants located across York Region.

Since 1997, York Region, Durham Region and the provincial and federal governments have invested more than $850 million in innovative technologies, equipment, training, and best practices to ensure Duffin Creek Plant continues to protect our waterways and local environment.

The Duffin Creek Plant has one of the best performance records of all wastewater plants on Lake Ontario. The Duffin Creek Plant has the distinction of being the first wastewater treatment facility in Canada to achieve LEED Gold Certification for excellence in environmental building design.

WT: Please describe the process at Duffin Creek.

Kemp: This conventional wastewater treatment facility has a treatment capacity of 630,000 m3 per day. To keep up with the growth of the area the facility serves, Duffin Creek is constantly being upgraded – including incorporating technology to conserve energy, focusing on sustainability, and rigorously managing odour control.

The facility is designed to treat all biosolids produced in wastewater treatment. Biosolids are dewatered and incinerated on site – with by-products treated in the plant’s process or re-used in other industries. None of the biosolids are disposed of in landfills.

Duffin Cree Water Pollution Control plant is ISO 14001 certified to ensure the facility meets enhanced global standards for environmental management.

WT: Under the Clean Water Act the Ontario government has legislated a program to protect municipal drinking water sources from contamination or overuse. Tell us about the program.

Kemp: Through our Source Water Protection Program, the Region works with governments, businesses, farms, and residents to protect water sources from contamination and overuse now and into the future.

Various protection measures are implemented to help protect vulnerable areas around drinking water wells (Wellhead Protection Areas) and areas around surface water intakes that bring water from lakes and rivers into treatment plants. (Intake Protection Zones)

York Region collaborates with local and neighbouring cities, towns, municipalities, and conservation authorities to align programs and plans, ensuring consistent, effective, and successful protection of all drinking water sources.

York Region also educates residents on source protection measures:

  • Avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers
  • Do not pour home heating fuel, paints, stains, degreasing products and other household chemicals down the drain, toilet or on the ground – take them to a Household Hazardous Waste Depot
  • Have your septic system inspected regularly
  • Return unused/expired medication to a pharmacy for safe disposal
  • Use road salt wisely – a little goes a long way

WT: What are the challenges (climate events, spills, emergencies, contaminants of concern) that York Region faces and what mitigations are in place?

Kemp: York Region’s Integrated Management Systemfocuses on quality and environment management to mitigate risks, comply with applicable legal requirements, minimize operational impacts on the environment and improve processes providing:

  • A multi-pronged approach to identifying and mitigating system risks including those related to climate events, spills, and other emergency situations
  • Mitigation measures include risk identification and evaluation, developing emergency procedures, training, and testing to support emergency response

Research and innovation, key components of York Region’s approach to addressing current and future challenges rely on partnerships with academic institutions, industry experts, and conservation authorities plus other public utilities. Implementation of innovative solutions to complex problems including:

  • Developing guidance for assessment and evaluation of harmful algal blooms and implementation of control strategies in source water
  • Investigating treatment options for perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in wastewater
  • Characterizing the prevalence and fate of substances of concern at our water and wastewater facilities such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
  • York Region recently released its Climate Change Action Plan which outlines implementation tasks for the next five years to increase resiliency and capacity of the Region to withstand and respond to current and future climate events.

The Region has a Low Water (Drought) Response Team that responds to advisories from conservation authorities about low water conditions.

  • The response depends on the severity of the low water conditions and incudes communications to the public issuing water-use advisories for increased water conservation
  • The work is completed in partnership with conservation authorities and local cities and towns who have their own outdoor water use bylaws

WT: What about inflow and infiltration?

Kemp: Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) happens when water, groundwater and stormwater enter the sewage system through sump pumps, downspouts and/or holes and cracks in pipes which could lead to basement flooding, less efficient sewage treatment and reduced infrastructure life expectancy.

Finding and reducing inflow and infiltration (I&I) is a high priority

  • It reduces the cost of treating stormwater as sewage
  • Helps maintain and extend the life of costly infrastructure
  • Ensures the wastewater system capacity is not taken up by stormwater so wastewater can move through the system while reducing the risk of overflows

York Region’s Inflow and Infiltration Reduction Strategy monitors rainfall and the sewage system in near real time to find areas with higher-than-expected water flow.

Since implementation of the I&I Reduction Strategy in 2011, York Region, local municipalities and development industry partners have reduced I&I by more than 22 million litres per day -- the equivalent to daily wastewater from 24,000 homes

WT: What sorts of Outreach and Education is York Region engaged in?

Kemp: York Region hosts and participates in several water-related events every year to promote the importance of water conservation and educate the public on our water’s journey from source to tap.

Every May, in partnership with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, and ClearWater Kids, the York Children’s Water Festival provides Grade 4 students across York Region the opportunity to learn about water conservation through a variety of interactive, engaging, curriculum-linked activities and resources.

Also, every May York Region's National Public Works Week includes online trivia and a family-oriented scavenger hunt, both which include water-related facts and information (for example what not to flush and where your water comes from).

In addition, York Region actively promotes the importance of water conservation  throughout spring and summer months, including reminders for residents to follow their municipality’s outdoor water-use bylaws and that fats, oils and grease should be cooled and scraped into your green bin—not poured down the drain.

York Region also offers several financial incentives to high water-use industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities who participate in water protection and efficiency programs.

WT: A career in the industry – are you recruiting?

Kemp: Recruiting qualified personnel is a significant challenge in York Region, particularly in engineering and digital areas. We are looking for people with digital skills who can solve complex problems in our rapidly growing communities.

Our proactive recruitment strategy includes strong partnerships with colleges and universities. We leverage co-op and summer student placements to attract upcoming graduates. We also attend conferences, information sessions and career centres within the community.

York Region offers flexibility to employees to support our modern workforce as we work together to help communities thrive. We are consistently recognized as an employer of choice in Canada. Current job opportunities are available here

Our 2022 Water and Wastewater Master Plan Update looks to our future and identifies the infrastructure and programs required to support our projected growth to 2 million residents and close to 1 million jobs by 2051!

WT: And one last drop. What would you encourage our viewers to think about?

Kemp: Water is vital to every household and community. It is part of everything we do – from maintaining vital hydration, to cleanliness and sanitation, to watering our gardens. Water is essential to firefighters, to farmers, to hospitals, and essential services.

Next time you open the tap, take a moment to reflect on our good fortune in having access to clean, reliable, safe drinking water whenever we need it.