Number of residents at the District of Squamish’s Liquid Waste Management (LWMP) open house — 0. Amount of cash at stake — more than $100 million.
I entered the banquet room of the Squamish Seniors’ Centre to find a string of display boards outlining the municipality’s initial step towards creating its first LWMP. In the empty room stood information posters, a handful of district staff, consultants and me. That Wednesday night, I was the only fly circling the sewage and urban runoff diagrams.
Granted, wastewater treatment excites me. As a reporter in Victoria, I dredged through years of discussions and papers on biosolids, filtration, and the pros and cons of having a main sewage treatment centre versus mini-plants scattered throughout neighbourhoods.
There are interesting things churning in the human waste by-products field. While Squamish currently trucks approximately 1.8 million kilograms of dewatered sewage sludge (biosolids) a year to Whistler to be pasteurized, Kelowna and Vernon are packaging and selling their poop. Created from biosolids, hog fuel (a by-product of lumber mills) and wood ash, the communities market OgoGrow as a soil amendment.
Beyond composting, new technology has allowed sewage to have multiple uses. In Victoria, Dockside Green, a 1.3 million-square-foot mixed-use development, treats its own sewage, reusing the purified water in toilets, irrigation and the property’s creeks and ponds. And then there’s the heat factor. North Vancouver townhome complex Seven35 recovers warmth from sewage for household use.
But a LWMP isn’t just about Mr. Floatie. A large chunk of the plan deals with urban runoff. As more and more communities find themselves in a concert jungle, how water gets from streets, parking lots and roofs to municipal drainage systems has become a big and varying issue. It deals with everything from the chemicals that may contaminate the water stream to the speed and rate at which it re-enters the environment. In short, it saturates a lot of areas.
On top of all the technical adventures of future liquid waste management, Squamish has to deal with its past — aging infrastructure. If the community is heading toward 30,000 residents, the municipality faces approximately $38 million in upgrades to its sewage plant over the next 20 years. Replacing all 105 kilometres of aging sewer pipes and 24 pumping stations would cost an additional $92 million. And none of this includes the district’s hunt for a new water source.
So before flushing the subject, you might be surprised at how stimulating toilet talk can be.