With its usual water reservoir almost at capacity, the City of Vernon is planning to discharge treated waste water directly into Okanagan Lake.
While this type of discharge is done by other municipalities, the announcement has generated local controversy.
On Wednesday, as an environmental group called for Vernon to change course, the city defended its plan to discharge the treated effluent into the lake.
Huguette Allen, a director with the Sustainable Environmental Network Society, called the planned discharge “wrong,” pointing out the treated effluent could impact a wide variety of lake users, including swimmers and aquatic life.
Allen is concerned that the city’s sewage treatment process isn’t screening out things like pharmaceuticals and endocrine distrupters.
“They create cancers, they create birth defects,” Allen told Global News.
“They are very serious, not just for humans, but particularly for aquatic life.”
However, the City of Vernon is defending the practice of discharging the treated waste water into the lake.
“What we are going to be releasing to the lake is high-quality treated reclaimed water,” said Serge Kozin, who manages the city’s sewage treatment plant.
The sewage treatment process
On Wednesday, Vernon offered the media tours of its sewage treatment plant (which it calls the Vernon Water Reclamation Centre) and the 18-hour process sewage goes through to be turned into treated effluent.
That treatment includes everything from an initial screening that clears out anything larger than six millimetres, to a multi-step process that separates the solids from the liquids and a final UV light disinfection treatment.
The media tour and planned public tours are part of the city’s public relations campaign to relieve public concerns about its plan to discharge treated waste water from the plant into Okanagan Lake starting in February.
Kozin is confident that once the public sees the process first hand, they will be comfortable with the city’s plan.
“Once they go through the process and see how comprehensive and complex it is and the water that is produced at the end of it, I think we can change peoples’ minds,” Kozin said.
“The Ministry of Environment says that it is safe to discharge to the lake.”
Reservoir nearing capacity
The city says it typically sends the overwhelming majority of the treated wastewater from the sewage treatment facility to a reservoir, where it is then used for irrigation on sports fields and in agricultural production.
However, according to the city, due to weather and environmental conditions it hasn’t been able to use as much water as normal from the reservoir in recent years, meaning the reservoir is now almost at capacity.
That’s why the city has decided to start discharging treated water from the sewage treatment plant into Okanagan Lake starting in February.
It is unclear how long that discharge of treated effluent into the lake will last, or if other discharges into the lake will be required.
However, Kozin said the city’s overall goal is to continue to send the treated water from the plant to a spray irrigation system, as it has in the past.
Additionally, a statement on the city’s website said this summer’s spray irrigation program is expected to decrease the amount of water in the reservoir “to a more manageable level.”
Critics have question why the city didn’t urge residents to conserve water to prevent the reservoir from filling up or find an alternative reservoir site to hold the additional water until it can be used in irrigation.
Kozin defended the city’s handling of the matter, saying there is an active water conservation campaign run by the regional district.
He said while more infrastructure could provide a solution, and the city is not closed off to the idea of building out the system, it would likely be expensive.
“We are always open to solutions,” Kozin said.
“We have looked at other programs and maybe expanding the system, but it comes at a very high cost.”
For those interested in learning more about Vernon’s sewage treatment process or asking questions about the planned water discharge, the city is offering tours of its treatment plant this Saturday.