Ten years ago, researchers at the University of Regina embarked on a study examining the effects of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.
It later received a $ 175 million upgrade, aimed at largely eliminating ammonia contamination and reducing total dissolved nitrogen levels by 85 percent.
The study found that the removal of nitrogen from the city’s wastewater discharge system vastly improved water quality in one of Canada’s most polluted streams, Wascana Creek.
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Peter Leavitt, Canada’s Research Chair for Environmental Change and Society, says Wascana is too small to handle the city’s waste.
“Cities act like big magnets, they attract things from all over the planet, concentrated in one area. Then we use the stuff, process our waste, and dump it into the environment. ”Leavitt adds that there isn’t much running water in southern parts of Saskatchewan, to help dilute the pollution.
The lack of running water imposes many limitations on the industry and the social development of the city. Leavitt says that most federal laws are based on the concentration of whatever is in the wastewater, assuming it will be diluted.
“At Wascana Creek, there is almost no running water in the creek for much of the summer and fall and all of the winter,” says Leavitt. “During the summer and winter, the only thing that flows into Wascana Creek is sewage.”
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Environment Canada recently conducted a study in Saskatoon on the creek, looking at raw data on what pollutants could be extracted from human waste. They quickly discovered that nitrogen levels were off limits, along with large volumes of personal care products, medications, algae, etc.
Wastewater, a problem that could accumulate
Leavitt says that removing nitrogen is a positive step in the right direction.
“We hope that the water quality will start to improve first at Pasqua Lake, then move east through the downstream ecosystems,” says Leavitt. “As long as planned industrial activities, such as wheat straw pulp mills, canola seed mills, agricultural fertilization and other activities, do not spoil the good work.”
Full recovery of the affected lakes will likely take decades.
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