Close-up: Struggling to eliminate waste
David Perron hasn't eaten many meals on his deck since he retired to West Kelowna three years ago.
It's not that he doesn't want to. The back of his Canyon Ridge home provides him with a breathtaking view of Okanagan Lake.
But a glass of wine is tough to enjoy while sniffing odours from the Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, which he says blow toward his house more days than not.
And as far as the District of West Kelowna is concerned, the foul odour isn't the only problem that stinks.
The plant currently trucks its biosolids more than 300 km northwest to Clinton, at a cost of about $1,500 per trip.
While the Regional District of the Central Okanagan attempts to come up with a better solution, it has increased the plant's 2014 budget by $300,000.
It's one of the reasons why West Kelowna residents will notice a substantial increase when they look over their next utility bill.
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater describes the ongoing issue of where to dump the Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant's biosolids as "a long and sad story with little long-term planning."
"One of the things I've been fairly critical about is that, while the plant works, it seems to operate from day-to-day until there's a crisis," says Findlater.
Biosolids—a gentle term for sewage sludge—from the treatment plant were buried at the Westside Sanitary Landfill prior to its closure in July 2010.
In the five months that followed, the treatment plant brought biosolids to the Glenmore landfill through an agreement with the City of Kelowna and Ministry of Environment.
Once that disposal option was exhausted, the Regional District of the Central Okanagan entered into a two-year biosolids management plan with SYLVIS Environmental. Biosolids were then taken up the Okanagan Connector, to Pennask and Bob's Lake Pits as part of a short-term reclamation project.
"During that time, we began exploring other opportunities for land application," says Bruce Smith, communications officer for the regional district.
The regional district then proposed spreading the biosolids in Westbank First Nation Community Forest; however, WFN eventually rejected that plan.
Scrambling to find an alternate location to bring the plant's sludge to, the regional district identified a possible reclamation project at Brenda Mines.
Peachland agreed to that plan under three conditions; one of which was to first get approval from Interior Health Authority.
"Interior Health advised that, out of a concern that the materials could make their way into the nearby water course during a possible heavy rainfall event, they recommended that we not proceed," says Smith.
The treatment plant began transporting the biosolids to Clinton last October—at an estimated cost of $1,500 per trip.
The increased hauling distance is now hitting the pocketbooks of West Kelowna, Peachland and Westbank First Nation residents who the treatment plant services.
A total of $300,000, plus a 14.2 per cent administration overhead charge, was added to the 2014 budget to offset the cost of transporting the sludge to Clinton.
The regional district will also charge West Kelowna an additional $494,265 this year, based on adjustment to the sewer flow calculation for the community.
Those charges will result in a rate increase of 22.92 per cent—or, $49.24 annually—per West Kelowna household.
According to the district, incentive funds provided from Multi-Material British Columbia for communities that participate in recycling programs will be used to help reduce the cost of recycling to residents; therefore, the net annual utility bill increase will drop to $30.80.
Peter Rotheisler, manager of environmental services with the regional district, acknowledges disposing the biosolids in Clinton is Plan B.
And with the current contract with SYLVIS Environmental set to end in September, the clock is ticking to figure out Plan A.
"In the meantime…we have a request for expression of interest out right now to gauge the interest in managing our biosolids," says Rotheisler.
"From that we will develop an RFP (request for proposals) and see what solutions come forward."
The request for expression of interest closes July 3 and Rotheisler says the regional district has received several inquiries.
"We have had a lot of different companies we didn't even expect inquire about it, so it should be interesting.
"The key is finding the option that is cost effective and limits impacts on the environment."
Stakeholders have also encouraged the regional district to develop a master plan for the treatment plant, which looks at all aspects including odour, transport and future expansion.
"It will be a very comprehensive document," says Rotheisler.
"It's not going to provide all the answers by any means, but it will really provide a framework in terms of some of the key areas that we need to look at on an ongoing basis."
But that master plan is in the early stages, and it could be some time before it is complete.
Before David Perron purchased his retirement home in West Kelowna's Canyon Ridge community three years ago, he was told he might notice a smell for a couple days every month until the treatment plant's phase three upgrades were completed in November, 2012.
The builder assured him the problem would go away after that.
But Perron says the facility upgrade hasn't fixed the problem.
Perron and other residents have been recording when they notice foul odours since 2012.
In April 2014, Perron noticed a bad smell on 15 separate days.
"We spent a lot of money on this place," says Perron.
"Now we have a house that we can use the inside of, and (a house) we can use the outside of, depending on which way the wind is blowing."
But according to the regional district, Perron is only one of four individuals to submit an odour complaint in 2014.
"It's primarily one person who has been complaining, frequently," says Smith.
"That person is well aware of what is being done and how we're addressing it."
But Perron says more people share his concerns than the number of official complaints may represent.
For example, he led an information session for Canyon Ridge residents last Monday evening. About 40 people attended that meeting.
He says he's also heard from residents on Whitworth Road: An affluent street where three of the Okanagan's 30 most expensive houses—each worth more than $4.8 million—are located.
A comment from Perron's logbook, submitted by a Whitworth Road resident April 25, 2013, reads: "Yesterday evening was a putrid situation as sewage odours were entering our residence. The previous two evenings were unpleasant as well."
The treatment plant has enlisted the skills of a PhD student from UBCO to begin an odour-monitoring program in key receptor areas around the plant. The first round of data should be collected in the next couple weeks.
Perron argues those readings are far less accurate than a system such as OdoWatch, which is currently used by the regional compost facility near Predator Ridge.
But that type of expenditure is tough to justify when there are so few residents complaining, says Rotheisler.
"Odour monitoring is an extremely expensive undertaking.
"We're committed to monitoring odour and making improvements, but we also need to bring forward a reasonable approach to doing so, that takes into account all of the different people who are financial contributors."
Perron is convinced many of the treatment plant's problems would be solved if it was run by the District of West Kelowna.
And Mayor Doug Findlater agrees.
"I wish we had more influence and more control over what goes on with that plant…but we don't," says Findlater.
A May 2010 report, provided to the district by Neilson-Welch consultants, suggests the district consider a municipal service option, which would give West Kelowna governing authority over the treatment plant.
But Findlater says that option hasn't been well-received by other stakeholders.
"In an ideal world we feel we would operate it and do it better, but we have partners in that plant.
"Such a change, without their agreement, would be very difficult—and they're not inclined to agree.
"So we try to create change from within a stakeholder committee."