Fight for Cobalt sewage system continues

Darlene Wroe

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

COBALT - Maria Story, president of Story Environmental, has secured approval from the Town of Cobalt to share information if she can convince a university to conduct a research study on the Cobalt Constructed Wetland.

The wetland uses a cattail ecosystem as the primary component to process waste from the community of just under 1,000 residents. A minimal of mechanical components are used in the process.

The wetland has been used as sewage treatment since the beginning of the 2000s, and Story Environmental has been involved with the project for many years, she said at a presentation to Cobalt council February 21.

After passing through a series of cells, the wetland discharges the cleaned effluent into Farr Creek, which eventually reaches Lake Temiskaming.

"Farr Creek is a beautiful habitat and it has continued to evolve over many years," said Story.

She said prior to 2001, Cobalt discharged its sewage in Sasaginaga Creek.

The Cobalt site was put in place as an experimental wetland.

Story said in 2008 the Ontario Ministry of Environment requested an assessment of the system, and in the following three years trials were conducted.

The system works very well throughout most of the year, but during two of the coldest months of the winter "it doesn't perform as well as it needs to," said Story.

The annual average provides very good readings, and Story said "other municipalities in Northern Ontario operate with limits that are much less stringent."

Story said efforts have been made to convince ministry officials that the system is "good technology," but town representatives do not feel they have had good success in doing so.

In 2021, the town was advised by the ministry to replace all the baffles in the wetland, which Story said would damage the system.

"Since January 2022 we have been operating under an order."

Story said improvements with discharges have been continuing. On an annual basis the biological oxygen demand has dropped substantially, she said. The annual levels are well below the required limits.

"The total suspended solids and total phosphorus are also dropping. The total suspended solids perform really well all the time." The phosphorus is also declining, she said.

"The discharge is less than 50 per cent of what has been approved."

A capacity study is being conducted, she said.

But she wants to see if she can get a university research study conducted on the site.

"I believe it's sustainable using very few resources," she said.

The system, if copied elsewhere, "could benefit other municipalities in Northern Ontario with limited financial resources."

Darlene Wroe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker