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Clear water: Teck water treatment facility nears completion

Teck will be flicking the switch on the Fording River South facility within months

Teck’s water treatment program will see a large increase in capacity coming online over the next six months with two projects nearing completion.

The Fording River South facility, which will be completed by March 2021 has the capacity to treat 20 million litres of water per day to filter out nitrate and selenium, while the Elkview facility is having its capacity doubled from 10 million, to 20 million litres per day.

“Once (Fording River South) is commissioned and treating water, you will see the effects of the plant immediately,” stated Teck’s Dean Runzer, who is general manager of water quality management with Teck.

When Fording River South is fully commissioned, Teck’s water treatment plants will be filtering 47.5 million litres of water per day, up from 7.5 million litres today.

According to Runzer, Teck’s technology can remove 95 percent of the selenium from the water, which was then discharged back into the river. Selenium is filtered out and then buried in a lined landfill on site in solid form. Nitrate gas is released back into the environment.

Runzer said that Teck was confident that Fording River South, together with the already-existing and planned water treatment facilities to be built would be able to meet the conditions of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, which is the company’s plan to manage selenium and nitrate in the environment as a result of historical, existing and future mining operations.

Fording River South has been in construction since the second half of 2018, and was initially planned to come online late this year, but workforce constraints due to the pandemic and other delays -including an outbreak of COVID-19 at the site itself - caused its commissioning to be delayed to the first quarter of 2021.

READ MORE: COVID-19 cases reported at Teck site in Elk Valley

“Right now we’re just completing the electrical, the instrumentation and the piping inside the building, and that’ll take another three to four months, and then we’ll start commissioning the plant,” said Runzer.

At the busiest time of construction, more than 300 workers were on-site at the facility daily. 27 full-time jobs will be created when the facility is fully up and running.

“It will take up to a year to achieve 100 per cent capacity,” said Runzer. “We slowly turn on the system, grow our biology and commission the plant and make sure everything operates properly.”

At the same time, Teck is also finishing up with the expansion of its Elkview water treatment facility, which uses a different version of the same technology to filter 95 per cent of the selenium from the water.

While Fording River South is a tank-based system, Elkview is a saturated rock-fill. That is, a re-filled pit created during the mining process. The biological process is the same, but the saturated rock-fill technology has multiple advantages over the tank-based facilities, namely scale.

“It’s quicker to build, and less complex,” said Runzer, who explained that using former mining areas meant Teck had many possibilities available going forward. ”We’re using something that’s already in the ground. It has lower capital, and lower operating costs. It has the ability to treat larger volumes of water into the future.”

Runzer said that Teck was committed to following the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, and was “spending a lot of money doing that.”

So far, Teck will have spent $742 million on water treatment studies and facilities by the end of this year, with a further $350-$400 million by the end of 2024.

“The rewarding part of this project is being able to take a very complex problem, develop new technologies, implement them, build them, then actually see the results in the environment.”

READ MORE: Teck calls federal intervention in Castle Project ‘unfortunate’
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