Moncton Water and Veolia Canada

The partnership that saved Moncton's water

As recently as the 1990s, water in Moncton, New Brunswick was in dire need of improvement. The antiquated system was delivering unfiltered water to the community and was continually failing water quality tests. In 1999, thanks to a public-private partnership between the municipality of Moncton and Veolia Water Canada, a state-of-the-art water treatment facility now delivers high quality water to the tri-community area.

Improving quality

Ensor Nicholson, Director of Water Services for the City of Moncton, has seen the city through the entire process. “We started to experience quite a bit of difficulty with high turbidity, bacteria counts, to the point where in 1997 the regulator here put Moncton on a boil order for several weeks,” he says, “Of course, this had a big impact on the community and started raising some questions about our water quality.”

There had previously been some discussion about upgrading the filtration system, but funding was always an issue. Finally, the mayor of the city at the time decided to look into the option of a public-private partnership whereby funding could be secured from the private sector. The process, Nicholson remembers, was lengthy, and after all the various FRQs and FRPs, the city was finally ready to proceed with construction. The decision came at just the right time—a second round of boil orders were placed on Moncton in 1999. The urgency of the problem was apparent to everybody, only further reaffirming the need to move quickly.

It was at this time that Veolia Water Canada became an important partner to the project. Nicholson explains, “They constructed a plan at a fixed cost for 18 months, which is pretty much the most compressed time frame in which you can do a process such as this.” The project progressed swiftly and according to plan. Today, the City of Moncton and Veolia Water Canada are in Year 11 of a 20-year operating agreement and both sides acknowledge a particularly positive working relationship.

Richard Bennett of Veolia Water Canada has worked with the project since Day 1, beginning in operation and becoming the overall project manager in 2003. He says, “It was a very interesting project to oversee, and to see where it is today now compared to where it began.”

Facility specifications

The state-of-the-art, class IV facility is capable of producing 25 million gallons (or 113,000 cubic metres) of water per day. A low lift pumping station transports the water from a pumping station into the treatment facility, which treats an average (levels fluctuate) of 55,000 cubic metres of water per day. The facility uses a multimedia, high rate absorption/clarification process designed to remove suspended matter (turbidity), colour, iron, and manganese, as well as micro-organisms including viruses, bacteria, and parasites from the water. It also manages alkalinity, hardness, taste and odour problems.

As part of the pre-treatment process, flocculation and coagulation are used to separate the suspended solids portion from the water. Bennett elaborates, “We take the raw water and we continually monitor parameters such as pH, temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen, and we take all that into consideration when we introduce the chemicals.” In regard to the post-treatment process, Bennett explains how chemicals are used for fluoridation chlorination and “we add caustic soda for pH adjustment.”

The water quality is continually monitored at every minute, as the plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has strict Canadian drinking water guidelines it must follow. It also undergoes daily chlorine residual monitoring, weekly bacteriological testing and corrosion testing. Bennett tells us how there are two particular parameters of water quality stated in the contract with the City of Moncton: turbidity, and true colour. Since the contract was signed, turbidity is 10 times better than before and true colour will exceed five true colour units, a substantial improvement. Furthermore, since the construction of the treatment facility there has never been any cases of pathogens in the finished water; a significant accomplishment considering the high incidence of pathogens in the untreated water source. Clearly, the treatment processes have been successful in cleaning up the water supply.

Community reaction

The community took notice of the water quality changes almost immediately. Nicholson tells us how customer satisfaction surveys continually show a noticeable difference in water quality, particularly in respect to turbidity and water colour. He says, “Tangible results; that’s what we’re always looking for.” Many of the old complaints in Moncton—for example, clothes being stained in the laundry—have become problems of the past. Furthermore, economic development of the area is greatly enhanced by a clean source of water and a reliable system.

“People who previously wouldn’t have considered doing business in Moncton because of the water quality are now doing business here,” Nicholson says with pride, citing the construction of a Molson Brewery a few years back as a prime example. “They came to Moncton specifically because of the water quality; it was actually the top item on their list.” The next phase of the project? Expansion of the current facilities to allow for more storage during drought years. This ultimately acts as an enhancement to the system already in place and secures a supply for future population growth in the region. It also provides a plan for further economic development.

The move to a public-private partnership has clearly been highly beneficial for the City of Moncton. Thanks to the combined forces of the City of Moncton and Veolia Water Canada, there will be a reliable, high-quality source of water for many years to come.