By Ezra Black
Discharging sewage into the Elk River a regular practice during the spring months as the snow melts and the area receives rain but it is rarely done in the middle of winter.
However, a rainy fall and an increase in usage over the holidays is forcing the City to go ahead with a temporary discharge, which is taking place between Jan. 4 and Jan. 18.
Fernie acquired a Ministry of Environment operating permit to complete the work.
Normally the City can manage the disposal of sewage. The typical daily average flow is 4000 cubed metres per day, which is more than one-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools, but the community’s infiltration ponds are at capacity, explained Dave Cockwell, director of Operational Services for the City of Fernie.
This happens when inflow rates are higher, for a prolonged period of time, than the rate at which the Rapid Infiltration Ponds (RIPs) are able to discharge the water. Fernie received an unusually high amount of rainfall in October and November of last year, which filled the ponds to capacity, said Cockwell.
“Although we were discharging to the river for some of that time, the ponds never really emptied to the point of having excess capacity,” he said. “With higher than normal flows over the holiday period combined with the limited capacity in the ponds, we find it necessary to discharge into the river again.”
Cockwell said the City is taking extra steps to treat the sewage before it’s discharged to minimize damage to the river. First sewage is pumped into the Sewage Treatment Lagoon Site where it is treated through a series of aeration cells that oxygenate the sewage and then allow for some settlement prior to discharge. It is also disinfected using ultra-violet light at the City’s Sewage Treatment Plant.
“These are acceptable levels of treatment for discharging to the Elk River and shouldn’t be seen as something illegal or less than acceptable,” he said.
The last discharge occurred between Oct. 11 and Nov. 29, 2016.