Opinion

Stewart: Wastewater treatment pace setter

If you have any interest in federal politics, you may have noticed the byelection in Victoria. Sewage treatment has been a contentious issue in that city for years, but it really came to a head recently.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the advances we’ve made in the Okanagan, up to and including the Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant (WRWTP) in West Kelowna. Discharging untreated wastewater simply isn’t a viable alternative here. We depend on the Okanagan for agriculture, tourism and drinking water.

As you may know, the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) operates a plant—technically, it’s a Biological Nutrient Removal Wastewater Treatment Plant—on Gellatly Road. What you may not realize is just how cutting-edge it is.

Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, which for brevity’s sake we’ll simply call ‘the plant,’ receives wastewater from the District of West Kelowna, the District of Peachland, and Westbank First Nation Reserves #9 and #10.

The original plant was commissioned and began working in 1989.

It was a perfectly adequate facility, but as anyone who has lived around West Kelowna since then can attest, the population has continued to increase.

To help meet growing demand, upgrades were commissioned in 1994, 2007, and just recently in 2012.

These upgrades were absolutely necessary. The original plant was designed to serve a population of just 7,000. The upgrades in 1994 and 2007 increased capacity to serve a population of 14,000 and then 35,000 people. (The original treatment plant has been taken out of service.)

This year’s upgrades have continued to meet the demands of a growing local population. The plant currently provides wastewater treatment for approximately 42,000 people.

It may not be a subject much discussed in polite company, but wastewater treatment has come a long way.

On the chance you’re reading this over breakfast, I’ll refrain from describing the modern, green techniques being used.

But suffice to say they are impressive—and if you’re curious, there’s great information on the RDCO’s website.

What’s perhaps even more impressive is that this world-class facility didn’t break any budgets.

In 1989, $850,000 was borrowed to assist in the original construction.

But just establishing the plant was a bold decision, criticized by some at the time.

But it was a completely necessary one. After all, we’re talking about the quality of our drinking water.

Remarkably, there’s no charge to join the service area.

Yes, it helps that most of the funding comes from higher levels of government, including the provincial government.

For example, the most recent $13.3-million expansion project was funded with $4.9-million from the Canada-British Columbia Building Canada Fund—Communities Component, which is shared evenly between the federal and provincial governments.

But the primary concern was never about finding another revenue stream, but to protect our water—both in the Okanagan itself, and our groundwater resources. The RDCO should be commended for refusing to charge a buy-in fee.

In other words, we are leading the way on wastewater treatment, a model for other jurisdictions.

Is it unusual to take pride in a wastewater treatment plant? Perhaps.

But only if you don’t know the whole story—or consider the alternative.

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