February 29, 2016 1:06 pm
Updated: February 29, 2016 3:18 pm

Halifax harbour bacteria ‘zapper’ to be shut off Tuesday

A ferry crosses the harbour in Halifax on Nov. 27, 2013.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Halifax Water says people won’t be able to notice it, but there’s about to be a few more bugs floating in the Halifax harbour.

Starting this week, the city will be shutting off its ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system that essentially treats water by zapping bacteria before it is sent to the harbour.

This is all part of a pilot program, set to start Tuesday and run for two months. It’s hoped that shutting off the “zapper” will save money and reduce greenhouse gasses.

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“There will be no change in the water quality as far as the visual look, the smell of the harbour,” said James Campbell with Halifax Water.

“There will be no change whatsoever.”

The city says it will save nearly $150,000 a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,100 tons by shutting off the UV for those six months. The city will also save 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

“Can’t just be about cost savings”

CUPE, the union that represents Halifax Water unionized workers, has expressed concern with the filter shut off, calling it a “non-disinfection system” rather than a disinfection system.

“Even if there are going to be cost savings, I mean, it’s the ocean. It’s an ecosystem and there are all kinds of things living in there, what about them?” CUPE representative John McCraken said Monday.

“With climate change and with global warming, rising sea levels, there are so many factors at play here, who’s to say that it’s less important to do it at this time of year, or any time of year?”

McCraken said the cost savings of the project are insignificant when it comes to Halifax Water’s annual budget, and referenced the fact that during the Halifax Water strike in the summer, the board spent about $350,000 on security for its facilities.

He said Halifax Water has spent the past 40 years trying to clean up the harbour and he can’t understand why the city is making this decision now.

“It always can’t be just about cost savings,” he said.

McCracken said the workers haven’t heard yet if any jobs will be impacted, but said that any time cost savings is on the table, “There’s always potential to reduce the number of employees.”

Bacteria will be at safe levels

The UV “zapper” treats the water before it’s dumped into the harbour.  The program, approved by the province, will examine whether the UV system could be shut off for six months of the year.

The shut off would be from November to March — a time when there is significantly less recreational activity in the harbour.

According to previous testing, the city says the bacteria levels will drop to safe levels within two to three days of turning off the system.

Bacteria levels prior-to (left) and after (right) new treatment facilities

City of Halifax

The seasonal disinfection plan is also being tested at waste treatment facilities Dartmouth, Herring Cove and Eastern Passage.

For more information, residents can visit https://www.halifax.ca/hrwc/seasonal-disinfection.php to get all the details and monitor test results.

With files from Dave Squires.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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