The sewage dilemma
Funding snafu may threaten new treatment facility

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Dec 14/98) - When human waste leaves Iqaluit homes either by truck or by pipe, it spends a little time in the community's sewage lagoon to settle out and then off it goes, directly into Frobisher Bay.

"You're left with a little green liquid on top and that's the sewage we charge directly into the ocean. Aside from the solids, it's totally untreated sewage," said Denis Bedard, the municipality's director of engineering and planning.

"Why they've allowed us to discharge directly is beyond me," he said, explaining that the waste getting pumped into the ocean contains a tremendous amount -- up to 15 million PPM (parts per million) -- of fecal coliform, a toxic bacteria found in the waste of warm-blooded animals.

The end result, said Iqaluit council member Matt Spence, is that 30-odd years of pouring waste from the sewage lagoon into the ocean has seriously affected the quality of the local marine environment and food supply.

"We've created a problem that nobody can clam there, you don't want to eat the fish there," said Spence.

But, thanks to some creative and hard work on behalf of several municipal officials, all of that should change during the next few years.

Since coming on board last October, the new council put out word that it was looking for an innovative solution to its sewage lagoon troubles. The old holding facility had to be replaced and council didn't want to build a similar system that would cause the same environmental problems.

Spence said council found the answer in Hill Murray, a company out of Victoria, B.C., which uses membrane filtration technology to treat raw sewage. At a cost of $6.9 million, the company said it would design and build a facility that will drastically reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the end product for the next 30 years.

"It looks like drinking water, but the only difference is the fecal coliform in there haven't been sterilized. The PPM are very small," said Spence.

So far, so good. And then funding problems began to rear their ugly heads.

Lack of money causing problems

In order to sign the construction contract with Hill Murray in January as intended, the municipality said it needed to have a commitment in its capital plan to provide the funding. The outgoing GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) hadn't made a commitment to cover the project and the incoming department of community government, housing and transportation (CGH&T) isn't in a position to commit funds before the Nunavut government is officially formed.

"It's up in the air and it's creating problems for us," said Spence, explaining that the town might not be able to meet Nunavut water board requirements if the funding falls through.

Mike Ferris, the deputy minister of CGH&T, said he was working with MACA and the federal government to come up with, at least, enough money to get the ball rolling this construction season.

"There will be a revised capital plan come across where (MACA) will put in some dollars. We're finding a mechanism which would allow us to meet the Nunavut water board's requirements to ensure the town gets its water licence," said Ferris.

Representatives from the town said they had also set up a meeting this week with the minister of MACA to further discuss the issue.