Tay council floats ideas about 'close to capacity' wastewater treatment plant

·6 min read

What isn't broken shouldn't be fixed, until it craps out.

That's the direction Tay Township council decided to go on a much-needed Victoria Harbour wastewater treatment plant, which, according to staff, is close to capacity right now and will be beyond that in the next couple years.

"We bought into the idea of being trendsetters and we got burned," said Coun. Barry Norris, talking about the options staff had suggested. "Why would you change when you have something in place that's acceptable?"

The pressure is on, especially since a Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MOECP) letter last year informed the township that the plant would be considered in non-compliance of its plant’s Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) if it continues to operate beyond its rated capacity to manage expansion of the system.

Staff brought forward a detailed report at a recent special council meeting, citing various expert studies and opinions on the three options to expand the system fo it to remain in compliance.

The first suggestion was to place a holding provision on the Victoria Harbour settlement area for future developments until wastewater servicing capacity becomes available.

Steve Farquharson, general manager, protective and development services manager of planning and development services, added that this does not apply to approved expansions that are within the wastewater plant's capacity.

Staff also said based on recent data, a phase two expansion should be designed for an average daily flow of 4,728 cubic metres/day versus the originally planned 3,550 cubic metres/day.

Another factor adding to the plant's capacity is possible inflow into the system (through storm to sanitary sewer cross connections) that hasn't yet been investigated. If administrated successfully, an inflow and infiltration (I&I) prevention program would reduce I&I rates by 25% over the course of a number of years, bringing flows down by 388 cubic metres/day.

Staff also indicated that the township currently has $3.8 million available in reserve funds, so financing will be required to complete the project that could cost up to $43 million.

The three options that council had to consider were an ISAM™ SBR (Integrated Surge Anoxic Mix Sequencing Batch Reactor) system without a biosolids management facility at a cost of $38 million, an extended aeration system with a biosolids management facility, at $42.1 million, or an ISAM™ SBR system with a biosolids management facility.

Staff was in support of the first option, however, council didn't see eye-to-eye on that.

Norris equated the ISAM™ system suggestion with lots of scepticism.

"This is all relatively new to the province of Ontario," he said. "I'm not disputing it's not going to work. (But) it's like Hoover leading the industry; everybody bought a Hoover. But then things started going wrong with it and Dyson came on board."

There were other reasons for his uncertainty.

"I don't believe this ISAM™ is ideal for our location," said Norris. "I'm not going to support it because we're sitting next to Georgian Bay."

As an an automated system, he added, if the plant shuts down, and there's no capacity to store the batch of treated water, it could go directly into the lake.

Norris said the extended aeration has been around for years, and it works so why mess with it.

The other issue, he said, was that the township would need to conduct a brand new environmental assessment study since the last one was done about nine years ago. That, Norris said, could cause further delays in the expansion.

That was also Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle's opinion.

"Why would you change when you have something in place that's acceptable?" he said, adding, "To me, there are many unanswered questions. I don't trust the numbers. I've seen this before and it scares me."

The idea of an ISAM™ system didn't sit well with Coun. Jeff Bumstead either.

"I'm not 100% convinced on ISAM™," he said. "I'm leaning toward extended aeration as the favoured process."

Some of his concerns were around the requirement of updating licensing for plant operators.

"Would there be increased staffing required for ISAM™ and increased wages due to the higher operator qualification level?" he asked.

Mike Mortimer, interim water/wastewater superintendent, said he couldn't answer the question around wages, but he could explain the rest.

"The requirement for a Class 3 plant would be the overall responsible operator to be licensed at the classification of the plant," he said. "Operators under that could have a lower level of class. They would upgrade at some point over the course of a few years."

Lindsay Barron, chief administrative officer, added that the township currently has a staff member with the required licensing.

Coun. Paul Raymond said he wasn't sure either why one system was being recommended over the other.

"We have these the discussion about how extended aeration is the proven standard and the best path forward, notwithstanding it's a bit more expensive," he said. "But we have three experts recommending the ISAM™ SBR process. I can't really qualify why other than the cost projection. Is that the only compelling factor to their recommendation? Or is one process actually better?"

Expert at hand, Lisa Babel, director, project planning and delivery, Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), explained.

"Both of these systems use the same basic biological treatment processes," she said. "At the grassroots, they're the same system. Across the province, we operate all kinds of systems. They're all different technologies to achieve the same outcome. Each one has it's own unique advantages and disadvantages. If there was one technology that was better than all of the rest, then you would see everybody using that technology.

"Extended aeration has been around for a long time," said Babel. "What people have been trying to do is improve upon that process. It can be anything from energy efficiency, ease of operations, but there isn't a be-all end-all of what's the best case."

She said each municipality has to look at what's best for its requirements and make the decision accordingly.

The decision by Tay council was to not go with the ISAM™ SBR process as recommended by staff but to continue with the expansion using the extended aeration system.

Council then directed staff to immediately investigate a potential inflow and infiltration reduction program.

The township also directed staff to go ahead with the short list of consultants that will be asked to submit proposals for MOECP pre-application work for phase two of the Victoria Harbour wastewater treatment plant, providing pricing for both optional work and complete pricing for work including, environmental assessment amendment work, ECA application, detailed design, and tendering and contract administration.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com