Advisory of the Day
VANCOUVER, BC: METRO VANCOUVER WATER: WRAP-UP, BC
This story is brought to you in part by Organic Teas Canada
This week we looked at a number of aspects of water security in the Vancouver area. We began the week looking into small privately owned water systems, more specifically security and oversight of these systems. We then turned to wastewater and impacts, generally with the Metro Vancouver wastewater treatment system and focused on sources of wastewater in healthcare facilities
We looked at a specific source of wastewater, healthcare facilities. What we found was that even with concern at a federal level with emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), there are no real regulations to control wastewater pollutants that come from Vancouver area hospitals. What was more eye-opening was that these institutions lacked the personnel with the expertise to speak to the issue
We saw that healthcare institutions produce numerous contaminants from daily activities. A positive take away here is that biomedical waste does not end up in the wastewater of any healthcare facility. According to Vancouver Coastal Health biomedical waste is "disposed of in a manner that safeguards the environment and human health and complies with provincial and federal regulations"
The way this is achieved is through contracting the removal of biomedical waste to Stericycle who holds the contract with all six B.C. healthcare providers. Further, VCH intimated that "over 90% of medical waste incinerated as it is the most effective process to break down the waste to a form that is safe for handling and disposal". Biomedical waste is not disposed of in hospital wastewater
We also learned that there are a number of B.C. laws and regulations that require any supplier to ensure clean safe drinking water to those they serve. We did, however, find some issues with privately owned small water systems. These systems tend to suffer from lack of funding and aging infrastructure as well as lack of access to testing labs. In addition, the difficulty to attract the necessary expertise to maintain the system makes it harder to provide safe water over the long period
I you live in a large multifamily building in Metro Vancouver, we found that your water is provided by the city itsel. Metro Vancouver supplies the water to metropolitan municipalities which distribute it to stratas up to the point of entry. Once water enters the internal system of the co-proprietorship it becomes the responsibility of the association that oversees the property
What we learned in our look at the wastewater treatment system in Vancouver is that of the 415 billion litres of used water produced in 2015, 80% is produced from daily household activities. That's correct, 332 billion litres of wastewater were produced simply by doing the dishes or taking a shower. Clearly modern daily life has an impact on the water system
We saw that Metro Vancouver's wastewater treatment system is a combined responsibility between the regional government and municipalities. Municipal sewers flow into Greater Vancouver's system of trunk sewers and pumping stations. The wastewater ends up in one of the region's five treatment plants
Three of Vancouver's treatment plants are providing secondary treatment which are in line with national standards. However, most of the used water that reaches these facilities flows to the two that simply offer primary treatment. Primary treatment simply removes sunken and floating matter
Beyond this the major issue found with the way Vancouver deals with wastewater is that the system is aging. We found that the system is shared where storm water and wastewater flow within the same system of pipes. When there is overflow, which puts strain on the system, large amounts of wastewater are pumped back out into the surrounding waterways without treatment.
We did see that Metro Vancouver is proactive in a couple of areas. In wastewater management, they are in the process of upgrading the sewer system that will separate storm and wastewater permanently Expected completion of the project is for 2050.
Vancouver is also about to begin construction on the $700 million upgrade to Lion's Gate Wastewater Treatment facility. The much-needed improvements will give the treatment plant the ability to provide secondary wastewater treatment. This is the process where chemicals are added to further breakdown the effluent.
A very important step Vancouver has taken is to work with local area hospitals to develop implement Pollution Prevention Planning. This will see hospitals curb or eliminate pollutants in the wastewater at the source. Finalizing of the regulations is set for 2017.
As we have seen the Vancouver water system is complex, which has its pros and cons. The city is investing in the infrastructure, but contaminants still are found in the water surrounding the city. The best way to avoid finding pollutants in drinking and recreational waters, in the words of Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance, "is not to have them go down the drain in the first place."
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