Grant will help update new wastewater management plan

October 5, 2007

The Okanagan Water Basin Board received a provincial grant that will help them ensure this valley’s lakes and rivers can stay pristine.

At the water basin board meeting on Tuesday, the board directors got word that they will receive a $10,000 infrastructure planning grant from the B.C. Ministry of Community Services.

With that funding the board will conduct a Master Wastewater Management Plan that will help them revamp their sewage assistance grant program that doles out about $2 million a year to upgrade sewage treatment plants for communities with aging systems.

Although the program has been around for decades, it hasn’t been reviewed since 1993 and there have been many changes to the region since then.

“There’s been a lot of development, and changes to sewage treatment plants since that time, and at the same time there are still old neighbourhoods that are on septic systems that may be polluting,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board. “With the study we will find out what future needs will be and plan for the future.”

Although sewage isn’t something most people dwell on, it’s a major factor in the health of the region’s lakes. Keeping on top of what’s happening, she said, has enabled some significant impacts for this region, which once saw its lakes and rivers left to stagnate.

Warwick Sears explained that prior to the 1970s, municipal waste water was treated by secondary processes where micro-organisms were added to dissolve organic matter.

The treated product was then dumped into the lake chock-full of nitrogen and phosphorus. That resulted in a buildup of algae and weeds leaving a generally unpleasant looking lake.

But, after years of helping municipalities improve their infrastructure, the lakes returned to their natural state and have seen a decrease of 90 per cent of the phosphorus build-up in the years between 1970 and 1990. “The net result is that there is ongoing improvement to water in the lake system, and that happens when communities are better equipped to manage their wastewater so its not polluting the environment,” she said.