A flush industry
It starts with the flush of a toilet — an exercise most people don’t spend too much time thinking about.
However, all the waste and sewage in the city needs to go somewhere.
For more than a quarter-century, anything flushed down a Kamloops toilet has been going to, and treated at, the city’s sewage-treatment plant.
However, the plant, which was first commissioned in 1985, isn’t meeting tough provincial and federal standards.
So, in the last few years, the city has embarked on a major upgrade of the facility that, when complete, will cost more than the Tournament Capital Centre and the new Valleyview interchange combined.
Deven Matkowski is the city’s engineering manager and he has become very familiar with the project during the last couple of years.
He explained the plant is being converted from a lagoon-based treatment system using earthen basins to a more intensive process that involves plenty of concrete structures.
The new plant will not only meet provincial and federal guidelines, but increase capacity to accommodate the city for the next 25 years — or a population of about 125,000.
Here’s a little Kamloops sewage treatment 101.
Essentially, sewage treatment is an organic process in which bacteria or bugs are used to take nutrients out of the untreated sewage, so the leftover liquid, or effluent, is clean enough to be released into the river.
“It’s the bugs that do the job, that do all the treatment,” Matkowski said.
Even under the current process at the plant, he noted the effluent is clean enough to drink.
All untreated sewage in the city goes through two lift stations — one on the north side of the Thompson River by the airport and one on the south side of the river along Mission Flats Road, near the Domtar pulp mill.
From there, through a main, gravity pushes the smelly stuff a couple of kilometres down the road to the treatment plant.
Part of the project includes building a new, 1.3-kilometre force main to help the sewage along its journey, at a cost of $1.9 million.
That component is already complete.
The entire project was originally budgeted at $38 million, but the cost jumped to $43.4 million, largely due to construction inflation and the harmonized sales tax.
The project is being funded through a combination of development-cost charges, debt, sewer levies and grants — $14 million from senior levels of government that must be spent by spring 2014.
So, here’s what taxpayers are getting for $43 million.
The plant will get a new head works building, which is responsible for screening out anything larger than a quarter from the untreated sewage before it gets to the treatment process.
The building will include new truck bays for commercial waste haulers, who also use the plant.
“It’s going to be a busy place,” Matkowski said.
There will also be a new administration building and lab, built at the entrance of the facility at a cost of $1 million.
The current building has one office for three operators, while the new building can accommodate six operators.
Mark Bregoliss, the chief plant operator, is looking forward to the move.
He said the larger lab will allow plant operators to carry out the various tests required to ensure the city is meeting discharge requirements.
“We’re going to have a bigger lab because the process is going to change,” Bregoliss said.
“We will probably be doing other things as well to make sure our process is done correctly.”
The new lab and office will also help recruit new operators.
Matkowski said it’s difficult to find operators as the nature of the field is very competitive.
“Part of a fringe benefit of having a new facility is it will make it easier for us to hire,” he said.
Meanwhile, the various cells or large pools around the site, which are part of the treatment process, are also being upgraded.
Cell 1A, a pool used to withdraw the sludge from the sewage, is getting a large cover.
Methane produced from the cell will be captured and flared for the first couple of years to see if it produces enough of the gas to determine whether it would be worthwhile to use a capture method to ultimately produce electricity.
Roughly $8 million is also going toward the construction of two football-field size clarifiers, which remove solid particles from processed water.
The earthworks have already begun on that portion of the project.
Once the solids have been removed from the liquid, instead of using chlorine, the water will be treated by ultraviolet light.
Matkowski said the new plant was designed to be low in operating costs and easy to operate.
“Not what’s going to save pennies today and cost us dollars five years from now,” he said.
At its peak, the plant now treats about 48,000 cubic metres of effluent a day.
The new facility will handle 60,000 cubic metres daily.
Interestingly, the plant gives the city a second treatment process, in which a portion of the treated water is used for spray irrigation, mostly for hay crops.
The second process is less expensive and the treatment is less intensive, but not used for consumption.
The slightly less treated water is already being used by the Kamloops Golf and Country Club in Brocklehurst.
About 15 per cent, or 5,500 cubic metres of the water, will go through the second treatment process.
The tender for the final contract is out right now, with work beginning on the final stages of the facility this summer.
The new sewage plant is expected to be complete and commissioned by 2014.
And, if all goes according to plan, Kamloops residents won’t notice a single difference when they flush their toilets.