The Buffalo Pound water treatment plant, which supplies drinking water to nearly a quarter of Saskatchewan residents, is getting $222 million in upgrades to refurbish its aging infrastructure.
The project is expected to start construction in early 2022, with costs being split across several levels of government. Ottawa will contribute $89 million, Saskatchewan will chip in $74 million and the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Corporation, which is owned by the cities of Regina and Moose Jaw, will contribute $59 million.
"It has been 30 years since we've done the last renovations. We're due," said Ryan Johnson, president of the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Corporation.
"We're having a lot more problems running the plant than we did in the past and it's costing us a lot more money in maintenance and repairs. We're having more instances of things not working as well as we'd like them to and a lot of it is because it's aged technology, it's aged infrastructure."
The plant draws on water from Buffalo Pound, treats it and uses it to supply drinking water to residents of Regina and Moose Jaw. Communities as far east as Sedley, north as Bethune and south as Briercrest also get their drinking water from Buffalo Pound.
The plant was commissioned in 1955 and in recent years has grappled with power supply issues resulting in electrical failures that threatened to cause drinking water shortages.
A $32 million infusion in 2017 allowed the plant to upgrade to more efficient pumps and purchase backup generators, Johnson said.
Changing how water is treated
The $222-million refurbishment, however, will flip the plant's whole water treatment process on its head.
Johnson said the plant currently relies on clarifiers, which take about 95 per cent of impurities out of water. Clarifiers rely on "sinking" contaminants to the bottom, leaving the clean water on top.
But much of the organic matter in Buffalo Pound is light, such as algae, and naturally floats near the surface.
Johnson said the plant will change its technology and start using a process called dissolved air floatation (DAF), which creates micro-bubbles that float contaminants to the surface, where they are skimmed off.
"It's reversing how we treat," he said. "The cleanest water is at the bottom, whereas today it's at the top."
It can handle pretty well anything you can throw at us. - Ryan Johnson
The plant will also rely on ozone, UV light, and biologically activated carbon and chlorine to remove any other contaminants, taste and odour from the water.
"It can handle pretty well anything you can throw at us."
Part of the $222 million will go to expanding the plant's lagoons.
Johnson said Buffalo Pound Lake has increasingly more organic matter and algae, which must be removed and put in the lagoons.
"Our existing lagoon system can't handle the volume so it was short circuiting."
Helen Baulch, a professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, works closely with the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant monitoring water quality and conducting research on Buffalo Pound.
She said the plant upgrades need to incorporate plans to deal with worsening levels of algae in the lake water.
"The plant faces, and has for decades, real challenges of the incoming water quality, the lake water quality," she said.
"The bottom line is water quality will stay the same or get worse. And there's real evidence that it may get worse. So the plant needs to be robust to those changes."
The upgrades to the water treatment plant are expected to be completed by 2025.