Protecting our waterways
Nutrients in wastewater, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, can act as a food source for algae, fish, and other animals. If a river or lake receives too many nutrients, it can lead to overgrowth of algae, which hurts the biodiversity and overall health of the water system.
The City of Winnipeg is committed to reducing the amount of nutrients we release to our rivers and lakes, including Lake Winnipeg, which currently suffers from high phosphorus levels.
The City of Winnipeg's sewage treatment plants currently account for five per cent of the phosphorus loading to Lake Winnipeg each year, according to a report from the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board.
Phosphorus levels from the City's sewage treatment plants have been decreasing over the past ten years. Upgrades to the West End Sewage Treatment Plant (also known as the West End Water Pollution Control Centre, or WEWPCC) and North End Sewage Treatment Plant (also known as the North End Water Pollution Control Centre, or NEWPCC) have resulted in less phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg. When the South End Sewage Treatment Plant (also known as the South End Water Pollution Control Centre, or SEWPCC) upgrade is finished these levels will go down even further.
Lake Winnipeg has a very large watershed that receives drainage from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, north west Ontario, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and north west Minnesota. The drainage area is approximately 1 million square kilometers, or 1.5 times the size of Manitoba. Lake Winnipeg has the largest ratio of drainage area to lake surface area in the world, according to a report from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The City's sewage treatment plants contribute five percent of the total percentage of phosphorus loaded into Lake Winnipeg per year. Other contributors include other sources within Manitoba (42 percent), the United States (35 percent), Ontario (13 percent), Saskatchewan and Alberta (five percent).
What the City is doing
The City of Winnipeg has been doing our part to reduce nutrient loading to our rivers and lakes for over 10 years. We have been upgrading our infrastructure and researching and testing interim options to remove phosphorus from wastewater. We are also proud to support environmental protection research and environmental groups that work to protect Lake Winnipeg, including the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium.
WEWPCC and NEWPCC were upgraded in 2008 and 2009, respectively. These upgrades reduced the phosphorus load from Winnipeg's sewage treatment plants to Lake Winnipeg, by 20 to 25 percent.
Ongoing upgrades to SEWPCC and additional planned upgrades to NEWPCC will reduce this number even further, once these projects are completed.
The remaining upgrades to NEWPCC and SEWPCC will reduce the amount of nutrients being released into our waterways, but will take years to complete. In the meantime, the City has been studying alternative options to remove phosphorus from our wastewater, including a recent proposal from the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation (LWF).
In 2020, the City will begin testing interim solutions for removing phosphorus. Testing is important because the City's sewage treatment system was never designed or engineered to work with this level of chemicals. The bacteria that work to treat the sludge may get sick because of the chemical byproducts that are made. Interim solutions will be tested for at least one year to ensure the process will work during all four seasons, as changing weather patterns and seasons can have different impacts on the amount of byproducts, like sludge, that are made.
Consultant selected to start testing interim solutions for removing phosphorus (chemically enhanced primary treatment, and Alternatives 2 and 6 outlined in the City of Winnipeg Request for a 'Notice of Alteration' for the North End Sewage Treatment Plant Environment Act Licence No. 2684RRR report).
Final test results presented to the Standing Policy Committee on Water and Waste, Riverbank Management and the Environment. Any recommended interim solutions would be implemented within 14 months, subject to Council approval.
Construction and commissioning of the SEWPCC Biological Nutrient Removal Upgrade completed. This step is required before implementation of any interim phosphorus removal at NEWPCC to ensure the process is compatible with the added SEWPCC sludge expected from the completion of this upgrade.
August 2022 - February 2023
Interim solution for removing phosphorus implemented at NEWPCC, subject to favourable test results and Council approval.
The City of Winnipeg's Water and Waste Department supports initiatives to improve water quality and wastewater treatment with the following grants and memberships:
Save Our Seine
Annual $30,000 grant to the Save our Seine advocacy group to promote environmental protection and stewardship of the Seine River.
For more information on Save our Seine: http://saveourseine.com/
University of Manitoba Collaborative Research
Annual $30,000 grant and services-in-kind to support research into new and innovative wastewater treatment processes, with an emphasis on improving treatment efficiency and nutrient removal.
Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium
The Water and Waste Department is a supporting member ($60,000) of the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium. The Consortium promotes research and understanding on issues critical to the health and wellbeing of Lake Winnipeg.
For more information on the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium: http://www.lakewinnipegresearch.org/contact/
What residents can do
Things that go into the sewer through toilets, sinks, or storm drains can clog our sewer system or end up in our rivers. You can help make a difference in the health of our waterways by switching to phosphate-free soaps and detergents and following these proper disposal suggestions.
Put the following items in the garbage where they belong, instead of down the drain:
- Cigarette butts
- Dental floss
- Tampons and tampon applicators
- Sanitary napkins
- Disposable diapers
- Human and pet hair
- Cotton swabs
- Wipes (pre-moistened personal hygiene towelettes, often advertised and labelled as flushable or biodegradable)
- Food scraps (an even better solution is to compost them or dig them into your garden)
- Vegetable and animal grease, fats, oils (these substances can clog the sewer in your home and the City system and cause sewer backup)
Anything on the ground can wash into the storm drains on streets and lanes and end up in the rivers, so:
- Clean up your pet waste.
- Check your vehicle regularly to make sure hazardous waste fluids, such as oil, antifreeze and gasoline, aren't leaking.
- Don't litter.
- Don't put grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste on the streets or into rivers – not only do they add harmful chemicals and nutrients to the rivers and clog storm drains, it's against Sewer By-law 106/2018.
Hazardous waste, chemicals and prescriptions drugs are potentially dangerous and don't belong in the garbage or dumped down the drain – they need special handling.
- Dispose of hazardous waste products safely by taking them to a 4R Winnipeg Depot or a Waste Wise eco depot.
These danger symbols can help you identify many hazardous waste products – e.g., corrosive, explosive, poison and flammable
- These danger symbols can help you identify many hazardous waste products – e.g., corrosive, explosive, poison and flammable
- Many chemicals can damage the sewer in your home and the City's sewer system. Our wastewater treatment plants may not be able to remove them and they can end up in the river, harming fish and other aquatic life.
- Take leftover or expired prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines to a pharmacy or Waste Wise eco depot where they will be disposed of safely.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential components of a healthy ecosystem. Virtually all human activities can introduce new sources of these nutrients to waterways.
Nutrient loading is the release of nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment.
Phosphorus released into Lake Winnipeg comes from a variety of sources, including untreated wastewater and run-off from fertilized agricultural fields. More than half of the phosphorus released to Lake Winnipeg comes from outside of Manitoba, as Lake Winnipeg has a very large watershed that receives drainage from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, north west Ontario, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and north west Minnesota.
High levels of nutrients in Lake Winnipeg, like phosphorus and nitrogen, cause excessive algae and weed growth. This lowers water quality, harms fish and other aquatic life as a result of lower oxygen levels, and affects the appearance and recreational enjoyment of our rivers and lakes.
Our sewer systems collect wastewater from industry, commercial businesses, and homes. From there, it is sent to one of our three sewage treatment plants to remove the major contaminants (carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) and harmful bacteria, such as E. coli.
To remove the contaminants, we send the raw sewage through several processes in our plants. Bacteria play a major role in the treatment process. The activated bacteria use the contaminants in the sewage as food to reproduce. Once this treatment cycle is completed, the bacteria are removed, the treated water is disinfected, and it is sent to the river.
Sludge is a solid byproduct of wastewater treatment. During the wastewater treatment process, the solid sludge is separated from the liquid wastewater. The sludge consists mainly of organic matter and is further treated and dewatered. After treatment, the sludge is called biosolids, which can then be used in our biosolids land application program, as a compost, or in landfill reclamation.
The City currently uses ferric chloride to remove phosphorus from its sludge treatment system at NEWPCC, where sludge from all three sewage treatment plants is treated. Recent proposals have suggested adding more of the chemicals to increase phosphorus removal. This must be studied further as using too much of ferric chloride may kill off the bacteria that is used to treat the sludge. Too much chemical use may also make more sludge than the plant has the capacity to treat. If the plant produces too much sludge, there is a risk of partially treated sewage entering our waterways.
Multiple interim solutions for reducing phosphorus loading at NEWPCC are outlined in the City of Winnipeg Request for a ‘Notice of Alteration’ for the North End Sewage Treatment Plant Environment Act Licence No. 2684RRR report. The City plans to test some of these solutions beginning in 2020.
The City has been working towards reducing its nutrient loading to Lake Winnipeg for over 10 years by upgrading infrastructure, researching alternative options to remove phosphorus from wastewater and supporting research and environmental protection.
Residents can help make a difference in the health of our waterways by switching to phosphate-free soaps and detergents and following proper disposal suggestions.
The City will continue working on upgrading SEWPCC and NEWPCC to further reduce the amount of phosphorus released into our waterways from our sewage treatment plants.
In 2020, the City will begin testing interim solutions for removing phosphorus. Interim solutions will be tested for at least one year to ensure the process will work during all four seasons, as Winnipeg's weather can vary drastically depending on the season.
At the completion of the upgrades to WEWPCC, NEWPCC and SEWPCC, which are required to meet current Environment Act licence requirements, it is estimated that the City's sewage treatment plants will contribute approximately one to two per cent of the total nitrogen and phosphorus load to Lake Winnipeg.
Reducing the City's phosphorus contribution from its sewage treatment plants will help Lake Winnipeg, but it is not enough to restore Lake Winnipeg completely or eliminate algae blooms. Lake Winnipeg receives nutrients from many other sources and these sources must also be reduced in order to restore the lake.