With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater.
At Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, the city’s acting water and waste services manager Arcadio Rodriguez brought forward a recommendation for a budget change that would see the city spend $70,000 in gas tax funding for water sampling and assessments over a two year period.
As Rodriguez explained, the city’s sewage treatment facility — the Livingstone Trail Environmental Control Facility (LTECF) — meets all requirements outlined in the city’s water license, but the science behind wastewater treatment continues to evolve to address contaminants like pharmaceuticals, care products, hydrocarbons, micro-plastics and other materials.
“Emerging contaminants are understood to be present in the city’s wastewater, but systemic testing has not been done to quantify them, and the LTECF is not designed to treat them,” Rodriguez said. “Regulations are not currently in place, but are expected to be brought forward, starting at the federal level within 10 years.”
The sampling and assessment proposed for 2020 and 2021 would only be the first part of what could be a longer-term plan that could go on to include the conceptual design for a treatment system for the pollutants in 2022, followed by the implementation of a treatment pilot in 2023.
While the city had budgeted $15,000 in both 2020 and 2021 for the sampling and assessment work, more recent quotes estimate that work to be about $35,000 per year and thus the amendment is required of council.
Council is set to vote on the budget change Oct. 26.
In an Oct. 22 interview, Yukon Conservation Society analyst Lewis Rifkind said the society is pleased the city is moving forward to look at pollutants in the city’s wastewater.
“Congrats to the city for thinking slightly ahead,” he said, noting that while there was a Yukon student who looked at microplastics in the Yukon River a few years ago as part of a science project, there is not a lot of information about what pollutants may be in the city’s wastewater.
“We know microplastics are a concern,” he said, also highlighting concerns with other materials that might be in the system.
With more results showing what is in the city’s wastewater, a better understanding can be gained, not only of what pollutants there are, but perhaps where they are coming from.
And that, Rifkind said, can help the city determine what direction to take.
If there aren’t significant amounts of contaminants, for instance, it may be that a large treatment facility isn’t required.
Rather, it may prove that smaller, educational efforts are needed to help residents think about what they’re purchasing or maybe looking at restrictions on what ingredients go into things like personal care products, which could be an issue for another level of government.
If hydrocarbon levels are found to be high, the city may think about adding more household hazardous waste days at the landfill where residents can drop off hazardous waste without a fee, Rifkind said in citing potential ideas.
Or it may be that the sampling shows a mix of treatment methods and educational initiatives will be needed, he said, adding that the more information the city has over time, the better equipped it will be on what direction to take.
Lewis said the conservation society is looking forward to seeing results from any sampling and assessment work that may be done.
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