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Water Today Title May 29, 2024

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The City's distribution network has close to a thousand kilometres of piping network, spread out over a very large geographic area.

WT Interview with Mike Jensen, Director of Water and Wastewater Equipment and Compliance, City of Sudbury

WT: I have with me here, Mike Jensen, Director of Water and Wastewater for the City of Sudbury. Thanks for doing this Mike. Can you give us an overview of the water system in Sudbury?

Jensen: Here in Sudbury, we have fourteen wastewater treatment facilities and close to seventy lift stations; eight different collection systems, that involve 772 km of sewer pipes and almost twelve thousand manholes, maintenance service holes. We treat more than thirty million cubic metres of wastewater on an annual basis. We also have a seven-million-dollar budget for biosolids, so after the sludge is separated out of the wastewater, the effluent is released back into the environment, and we have a biosolids facility to treat the waste-activated sludge at the end of the process. That’s a high-level overview of wastewater.

Similarly, in (drinking) water, we produce close to 20 million cubic metres of drinking water annually in the City of Sudbury. We have a total of two water treatment plants, twenty-four deep wells, fourteen booster stations, and a total of nine tanks and reservoirs. We are treating quite a bit of water. 

WT: What’s the population of Sudbury these days?

Jensen: We are about 160,000, all told. The city of Sudbury is spread out over approximately thirty-six hundred square kilometres, so not a lot of population density. We kind of have the opposite problem to our neighbours in the south, where there is a huge population, and the density is extreme. We have a lot of land, a large geographic area, and not a lot of people inside.

We have a total of forty-eight thousand residential drinking water accounts, mostly residential, but there are some industrial, commercial, and institutional as well.

WT: That’s an astounding surface area, all piped from plants to the homes?

Jensen: That’s right. Close to a thousand kilometres of piping network, spread out over a very large geographic area.

The City of Sudbury is comprised of a lot of smaller communities. In the days before amalgamation, there were these stand-alone public works facilities and staff. When amalgamation happened, we inherited the larger City of Greater Sudbury and all the sites fell under the same umbrella, under the heading of Water and Wastewater City of Sudbury.

WT: When I think about that kind of mileage and distribution, how far you must ship the water compared with other cities where there could be half a million people in ten square blocks. Have you calculated this, compared to another city, do you divide the infrastructure into the feet of pipe per person? Have you done anything like that?

Jensen: Well, we do; we participate in a few different benchmarking initiatives, as they are known. Municipal Benchmarking Initiative is one of them, we also participate in the National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative (NWWBI), and several communities participate. We do that exact thing, for every kilometre of distribution piping, what is the cost of maintenance and operations, as well as the delivery of capital, the capital program.

Typically, Sudbury kind of sticks out because of the geographic nature of the job that we have, our costs are a little bit higher than some of the communities that don’t have as large a geographic area as we do.

WT: Would it be two times more on average? Three times?

Jensen: I don’t know that it’s as much as double. One of the things we look at is the broad characteristics of the water system, quite a few things are considered. Is it well water or surface water? Is it a membrane plant or a traditional surface filtration plant? So, all these characteristics, because Sudbury has them all, in some areas we are right on par with some of the benchmarking initiatives, sometimes we are not. There are some areas, where there is quite a list of line items, sometimes we are right at the top of the pack in terms of cost/value for what we are offering. Other times, we are more costly. We do the best we can with what we have.

WT: What is the cost of water in Sudbury?

Jensen: We are right around $2.50 per cubic meter. That takes into account both water and wastewater, so it’s a combined bill structure. 

WT: One of your water intakes goes back to the 1800s, can you tell us about that?

Jensen: I believe that’s the David Street membrane filtration plant. David Street is in the older part of Sudbury. So, when Sudbury was incorporated over one hundred years ago, the drinking water source was Ramsay Lake, one of our main drinking water supply sources, located right in the centre. David Street water plant is using a type of membrane that filters water and supplies the distribution systems in that part of the city.

WT: I am reading a couple of things about Sudbury; the City has a system that delivers free potable water to events?

Jensen: Depending on the event. We have the Water buggy, as the name implies, a tow-along vehicle, very portable, sort of a heavy-duty pick-up truck. We bring it to events, operated by our staff. We test to make sure it's potable. It’s an opportunity for education and outreach. We use this at events like the Farmers Market, and other events located centrally, downtown. We do provide free drinking water, as folks are walking by, they can re-fill their water bottles. It’s an opportunity for us to talk about water and wastewater in the City of Sudbury. We have experts standing by, it’s quite popular. 

WT: Is the City of Sudbury doing anything special to adapt to climate change issues around water and wastewater?

Jensen: We definitely are! City Council (in 2021, or 2020) passed a Climate Emergency through the Council process. Council is very diligent about keeping an eye on all things related to climate change. For any of the capital projects, or even for operations and maintenance, there is a reflection on all of our cards that deals with emissions, of which water and wastewater are a big part.

At one of my sites, for example, we were upwards of a million dollars to treat the water; we have since reduced our cost down to around six hundred thousand, well below three-quarters of a million dollars through energy ventures and programs. Anytime we are in the energy savings programs, there is a reflection on emissions, there is a direct correlation to emissions released into the atmosphere. We are proud of that. We are not only saving substantial dollars for the water ratepayers, but we are also doing a pretty good job on emissions for the City.

One topic, in our recent master plan discussions, brought forward a proposal to change out forty-eight thousand water meters in the City of Sudbury. When we looked at our fleet of meters, residential and ICI, we noticed that fifty percent of them were over twenty years old, and many were upward of thirty to thirty-five years old. Like all things mechanical, they start to wear out and may not be reading as accurately as we desire. We embarked on a meter change-out program last year, we are about twenty-five percent through that now. Looking at our emissions, some of the benefits, including the online access to water accounts, which we will eventually have, folks can individualize their water consumption habits. Using less water means we use less energy and chemicals.

WT: If I want to learn about water systems or perhaps be a water operator, do you encourage people to come down for a tour of the plant? Are you short of water operators like most places these days?

Jensen: Absolutely. We are always looking for applicants for water and wastewater. A couple of initiatives, we have a page on the City website dedicated to how to become a water or wastewater operator. We also team up with local colleges and universities to get out there. Some of our employees have partnerships with the college. It’s always at the forefront to get the younger generation involved. Sudbury is a community of schools, post-secondary - both French and English. We do our best to get out there, talking to those folks looking for stable employment, looking for an excellent opportunity with a great salary, pension, and all sorts of benefits.

WT: Is there a challenge that isn’t getting any attention in the local or national media, is there something you would like to say about Sudbury’s water upcoming challenges, that needs to be out there?

Jensen: Any challenges we have, we bring to Council. One of our biggest challenges and this isn’t unique to Sudbury, is the amount of financing required to replace assets. One distinct example is distribution networks. You can imagine, with close to a thousand kilometres of pipe with the frost being quite deep, your infrastructure is quite aging, and, we see a lot of water main breaks. Water main breaks result in wasted water, and all sorts of threats to the community as far as drinking water problems. A lot of our capital budget is for replacing the pipes under the ground, which is at the forefront of our capital asset replacement plan.

WT: How do you finance something as long term, and out of sight out of mind as water infrastructure?

Jensen: We have engaged in PPP partnerships before, for the biosolids treatment plant, but not so much for infrastructure, replacing water mains. We have a ten-year plan, and strategy for ratepayers. Council has agreed to increase the rates for water and wastewater, so we have the funds to replace all the equipment. We see a shortfall, currently about 15 million dollars shortfall in water, and about the same for wastewater. The study we conducted found the replacement cost for the master plan shortfall at forty million yearly between water and wastewater. How do we cover the funding gap, and find the finances to replace our assets?

WT: Is there any lead in your pipes?

Jensen: We conduct lead testing as required by regulations. The municipality does not have a problem with lead, there are some residents that have plumbing or fixtures that might contain lead.

We do occasionally get some hits back on lead, but it's not in the distribution system, it's in the plumbing at the residences.

Twice a year we are looking for volunteers. 

We do have a Water and Wastewater task force, studying some of the older parts of Sudbury.

There could be some older homes that have problems with lead pipes. We are embarking on a project to see what that looks like, we just started a few months ago, are formulating as we speak, partnering with the ministry, to help our citizens with lead plumbing issues.

WT: They can contact your department directly if worried about lead in homes or last mile pipe?

Jensen: I would refer them to 3-1-1, or see our website if you have any questions about lead, or water in general.

WT: I appreciate your time, have a good day.

For a more detailed description of Sudbury’s treatment process, consult the city’s 2021 Drinking Water Quality Report

Contact the City of Sudbury

Email: 311@greatersudbury.ca
Local: 311
Long Distance: 705-671-2489