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Concern grows over Winnipeg’s sewage capacity as city and outlying areas grow

Senior staff at Winnipeg’s water and waste department are cautioning it’s time to carefully monitor deals allowing municipalities outside the Perimeter Highway to access the city’s sewage treatment facilities.

The warning comes as the city nears its capacity to manage the extra effluent in the next few years.

The committee overseeing the department is recommending city council review any new service sharing agreements for accepting and treating sewage from communities outside Winnipeg until the city has fully completed $1.8 billion in upgrades to its North End Sewage Treatment Plant.

Staff say dwindling treatment capacity could also impact developments inside city limits, until the city completes a massive overhaul of its ability to treat sewage.

An interim solution is expected to be in place by 2022, but it would not meet long-term provincial requirements for the environmental licence under which the treatment plant operates.

“We may have to slow down residential or industrial development in the city because we are, somewhere between five and nine years from now, going to hit our limit for what we can take into the sewage system,” said water and waste chair Brian Mayes.

City staff estimate the additional treatment capacity over the next few years to be approximately the equivalent to the addition of 90,000 new residents to Winnipeg.

Councillors were told the combinations of residential growth within Winnipeg and the industrial, commercial and residential development in surrounding municipalities will all have an impact on capacity of the city’s sewage treatment system.

Coun. John Orlikow says he’s not convinced the city has the capacity to add sewage from growth inside and outside the Perimeter over the next several years. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The estimate to complete all the upgrades for the North End plant is approximately eight years, but funding sources for the various stages of the project have not been hammered out between the three levels of government.

Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) isn’t convinced the city has to meet the capacity of growth inside and outside the Perimeter and treat everyone’s sewage before the plant upgrades are in place.

“I could be wrong [but] I don’t see it. The stuff (residential, commercial and industrial expansion) that’s in the pipeline already going in and the stuff we don’t know about; I’m quite concerned we are going to have the capacity,” Orlikow said during a meeting on Monday.

Moira Geer, the director of the water and waste department, acknowledged the city “has never reserved capacity” in its sewage treatment system for any type of commercial or residential growth — it has been a system of “who’s up first,” for connecting their developments.

“I’m a little nervous about that,” Orlikow responded, adding he’s worried it could put massive investments in residential development in the city of Winnipeg in jeopardy. 

Outlying municipalities paying attention 

The capacity issue is beginning to raise eyebrows at some of those municipalities outside the Perimeter Highway.

The Rural Municipality of Rosser signed an agreement with the city in 2014 to provide treatment capacity for 11,000 acres of existing and new developments inside CentrePort, an industrial park and inland port being developed and promoted by the provincial and federal governments.

Limited sewage treatment capacity could impact how the RM and CentrePort structure growth in the next few years.

The RM of St. Andrews doesn’t have a signed agreement for taking on sewage from a waste water project to service approximately 1,800 homes in the area, although it does have a memorandum of understanding with the city and the RM of West St. Paul. 

The federal and provincial governments and the two municipalities have already spent most of a $46.5 million budget preparing various systems in those communities for connection to Winnipeg’s treatment facilities.

Councillors on the water and waste committee amended the motion to get council oversight on any future service agreements to reflect the need to limit capacity in the next few years.

They also acknowledged the need to move an firm agreement with the RM of St. Andrews, but to limit how much sewage the community can send Winnipeg’s way over the short term.

“We did sign a memorandum of understanding with them [and] they did get federal and provincial money. They did put pipes in the ground. We should finish this off, [but] we shouldn’t give them an unlimited access,” Mayes told reporters after the meeting. 

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