Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission

Sustaining quality of life

The Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission (ACRWC) is a model of regional cooperation providing service to 13 municipalities in the Alberta Capital Region. Formed in 1985, in response to growth in the region at the time, the Commission was and is governed by the Municipal Government Act with a mandate to provide safe, reliable, cost-efficient and environmentally responsible wastewater service. Today, the ACRWC serves over 200,000 residents.

Mike Darbyshire, general manager, describes it in the simplest terms: “The ACRWC deals with transmission and treatment of wastewater, that’s what we do. Each community connected to the system collects its own wastewater and discharges it into the system. Then we take it and bring the water to the plant and treat it, before discharging it to the North Saskatchewan River.”

How it all works

The transmission system consists of 120 km of gravity sewers, 51 km of pressure pipelines and five pump stations. This system conveys wastewater to the ACRW Treatment Plant from member municipalities in the west, north and east sections of the region. It also conveys wastewater from the south members (City and County of Leduc, and the Town of Beaumont) into the City of Edmonton system for treatment.

In exchange, the ACRW Treatment Plant takes wastewater from Clareview in northeast Edmonton and from the Clover Bar Industrial Area. This exchange is regulated by the SWAP Agreement between Edmonton and the Commission (which expires in 2015).

As for the treatment, the provincial government requires the plant treatment processes to achieve ammonia-nitrogen concentration to less than 10 mg/L during winter months and less than 5 mg/L during summer months, and total phosphorus less than 1.0 mg/L.

Darbyshire says this mandate is relatively new. “We get an operating approval that sets the parameters for how well we have to treat the wastewater,” he explains. “In 1996, the government changed it so that, by June 2005, we had to go from conventional treatment to an advanced treatment processes of biological nutrient removal (BNR) and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection. We had to start treating for nitrogen and phosphorous before the wastewater gets discharged to the rivers.”

Why it’s important

Because wastewater management doesn’t affect household drinking water, there is room for confusion as to why it’s important. What the public should understand is that treatment removes or reduces contaminants in the water, so that the treated effluent from will not create pollution to water body after it is discharged.

If wastewater goes untreated, the organic matter it contains will decompose and lead to nuisance conditions, such as production of malodorous gases. It also contains nutrients that can stimulate the growth of aquatic plants and may contain toxic compounds or compounds that potentially may be mutagenic or carcinogenic. If this water is ingested, it can cause a lot of problems for animal and human populations. For these reasons, to protect public health and the environment, the wastewater should be treated to remove the nuisances/contaminants so that it can be reused or discharged into the environment (water bodies such as a river or a lake).

Continuing to meet needs

The Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission will continue to maintain wastewater quality well into the future. In fact, the Commission has a major project out for tender to increase the capacity of part of the plant; it is also building a new pump station in the City of St. Albert. “The expansions are mainly to meet the needs of growth,” says Darbyshire. “We’re developing an asset management plan, to expand and to repair. After 25 years, some of the infrastructure wears down. We’re maturing to the point of developing replacement programs. There will always be improvements. In the next decade, there could be more stringent water requirements in treatment that may require an extra process.”

“One other program we have initiated in the last year is a source control program, which targets the industrial/commercial sector,” Darbyshire adds. “It’s an area that we’re working on with our members, talking with industries and getting out there to do site samples. The program is to promote responsible wastewater practices.”

Although the ACRWC will remain committed to its mandate, it’s not only up to the Commission to ensure our safety and health. There are several things the public can do to help within our homes (see sidebar). Together, we can all participate in helping the environment and our future.