The Town of Lake Cowichan will apply for a grant of approximately $7.3-million from the federal government to help complete the final phase of upgrades at its wastewater treatment plant.
Council decided at its meeting on Feb. 22 to make the application for the funding from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure – Environmental Quality Program, and the town has committed to providing the rest of the money, more than $2.7 million, for the $10.1-million project.
“And now we wait for the lottery,” said Coun. Tim McGonigle after council voted to apply for the grant funding.
“Therein lies the problem. Each and every time we put forward these applications, along with 186 other communities in B.C., we’re all on pins and needles. I think it’s important to understand we’re trying to protect a heritage designation [Cowichan] River from entities we can control, but without the sufficient finding to do it. My concern is that we will need to do this sooner than later and if the [grant] is not approved at this time, we’ll have to look at implementing the upgrades regardless.”
The town first began to look at upgrade requirements at the wastewater treatment plant in 2005.
The first phase of the upgrades, which included the construction of a third cell, was completed in 2015 at a cost of approximately $1.6 million, with the help of grants totalling $1.35 million from Gas Tax Fund transfers.
The first phase, however, will continue to serve no useful purpose if the remaining upgrades are not completed.
The needed upgrades include the hydraulic connection of the plant’s Lagoon Cell No. 3 and aeration upgrades, and the construction of a screening facility, a phosphorus removal and filtration facility, and disinfection facilities.
The town has been instructed by the Ministry of Environment at various times over the years since phase one was completed to promptly implement the necessary measures to correct the non-compliance issues in regards to the discharges from the treatment plant into the Cowichan River if it is to avoid penalties.
Several grant applications have been pursued for the upgrades in the years after the first phase was completed, but with no success.
“The town now wishes to advance the planning and implementation of the remaining upgrades to the treatment plant in its continued efforts to improve the quality of the treated effluent being discharged into the Cowichan River, and to provide increased treatment capacity to support growth and development in the town, as well as in the neighbouring Ts’uubaa-asatx First Nations community,” said Lake Cowichan’s CAO Joe Fernandez in a staff report.
“The planned upgraded facility is expected to provide secondary treatment and disinfection and it is expected that all established effluent parameters of potential concern will be met.”
Fernandez points out in his report that the Cowichan River is a sensitive ecosystem that must be protected and properly maintained so that downstream users, including 24 water licence holders, are not adversely affected.
He said the river is also one of the most important ones on Vancouver Island for recreational activities and commercial fish species.
“It is incumbent upon the town to treat its sewer effluent so there are no adverse effects on the aquatic environment,” Fernandez said.
“The processes occurring in the existing wastewater treatment plant will be further affected by climate change which is causing more extreme weather events such as droughts and earlier snowmelt runoff which in turn could lead to untreated sewer overflows…and this makes the capacity and treatment upgrade requirements more urgent.”
Fernandez said an important cultural and economic factor that also must be considered is the ability of the Ts’uubaa-asatx First Nation to continue its economic growth, which can only be sustained by the town’s capacity to meet the Ts’uubaa-asatx’s growing water and sewer utility service needs.