Saturday, 10 August 2013

WWTP Unanswered Questions

Good morning Regina!!

Many months ago, long before this even became a public concern, I had addressed City Council regarding my concerns surrounding the Waste Water Treatment Plant upgrades. At that time, in December of 2012, it wasn't even publicly discussed about the possibility of the project becoming a P3. I had asked some very pointed questions to City Council, to which none were actually answered. I then followed up with an email to Dorian Wandzura to address these concerns, and he forwarded me the permit they have from the Province, and a letter from the Province apparently requiring them to build a new WWTP, even though in the Permit, it clearly states "construct or alter". Interesting to note is that these are apparent Federal Regulations, and the Province is only supposed to enforce those regulations, not necessarily advise a municipality how to abide by these alleged new regulations (by requiring them to build a new facility for example).

Also, note, it states the design life of the upgrade plant is 20 years. Not sure what the details are behind this, but if the contract for the P3 is 30 years, this should raise some red flags somewhere!

I replied to that email that this did not actually answer my questions, and his response was that he felt Council's questions were answered well enough, and noted that since I brought the matter up to Mayor Fougere, that my questions could be answered through him or any other elected official. Of course, I've never received any response since that day, from anyone at City Hall or on City Council.

So, what were the questions that still remain unanswered, to this very day? See Below:

Unanswered Waste Water Treatment Plant Questions from Dec 17, 2012 Council Meeting

- What has been done since 2008, and why the long delay in getting the project started?

- Now, let’s consider the fact that we overlooked a very serious, yet basic, issue like inflation, where the cost of this project went from $120 Million in 2008, to $150 Million, to $207 Million and beyond by 2015. During my research, I found that we already increased our debt level in 2008 to finance the original estimated $120 Million construction cost, so how are we expecting to make up the extra $87 Million+? Is this going to affect other major projects that we are currently considering and future projects?

- I am not sure if this has been talked about yet, but considering the fact that we recently entered into a contract to actually sell off our wastewater to a mining operation for $80 Million, I’m hoping this money will be used to directly offset any extra costs.

- The report notes that we will require at least $150M in debt financing to go ahead with this project, which I should note is $50M more than expected in 2008 (Which showed $100M of the $120M cost to be financed through debt). It also states that the inflation is based on current markets. An obvious concern is what if the inflation goes even higher, and the debt required is higher than our current debt ceiling?

- Assuming we still need to spend the $207M+ on the WWTP, which of our capital projects are going to take priority?

- It should also be noted that the report cautions that the allocation of City debt to this project will constrain the City’s ability to borrow for other major capital projects based on current borrowing limits and where existing debt is currently committed. As a result, it states that the City’s debt will need to be closely and strategically managed in the coming years. How can we, as taxpayers, feel secure in knowing that this debt is being strategically managed, other than taking your word? As your manager would reasonably expect to see from you, I would respectfully request something to show us that this is being planned for. We have several recent examples where planning wasn’t followed properly, and thus, I want to ensure we’ve actually learned from those projects. (Plaza, WWTP inflation, GTH?, CP Land Purchase, Pension Shortfall, etc.)

- We keep hearing that there is a significant infrastructure deficit in our City, what is the total cost to correct that deficit and what is our plan to address it?

- If these new regulations were coming into effect soon, I would reasonably expect other cities in Saskatchewan to be as concerned as Regina, as they should all be planning for the same regulations. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I researched Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Swift Current, and Yorkton. None of them seem to be spending on upgrades anywhere near our estimated $200M+. The Federal Government even stated that 75% of Canadian cities already meet or exceed future expectations, which is typically achieved by having a secondary treatment system, which we have already in place.

- In regards to recent funding and/or upgrades, I noticed on March 5, 2007, we received $3.3M in funding from the Federal Government towards a $12M upgrade at the WWTP. Also, in 2012, we budgeted $19.6 Million in upgrades to the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Were these done, and if so, were they a part of these retrofit upgrades, or separate?

- The report states that we are upgrading the facility to be capable of handling 258,000 people by 2035, which I see is what we have used as a benchmark for our Official Community Plan. This is a growth rate of 3,000 per year. While I commend the City for thinking big, I have to wonder is this realistic? Are we building something that we may not require for far longer?

- I have found that the Federal Government has said that the Federal Gas Tax Fund was intended to be used for projects such as this. How much of the Building Canada Fund and/or Gas Tax Fund have we used or are we using towards the WWTP Upgrades?


  1. Why we need to build something:
    Regina's Secondary Treatment system, based on aerated lagoons, does not remove Nitrogen compounds from the water. The new regulations require nitrogen removal. There are many forms of Secondary Treatment, and many other Canadian Cities use these forms of secondary treatment already. Regina is having to build a system that can remove these Nitrogen compounds.

  2. Thank you for the honest comment. I would definitely be interested to hear more as you seem to be an informed individual on this subject. I am by no means a chemist, but from the documents I've read, it appears that we are removing at least some nitrogen from the water. I could be wrong on that, and it would have been nice if the City of Regina was willing to provide evidence that we do not currently.

    I have a hard time believing that we are the only City in Saskatchewan that doesn't have this setup, considering a decade ago, we were miles ahead of other cities in Saskatchewan for our processes.

    It should be noted that we also have a system that goes beyond secondary treatment, called tertiary treatment, and from what I've read, it seems that this far exceeds any current or proposed regulations. Am I wrong on that interpretation?

    Finally, there is still the question of timing, and the need to build an entire new plant for one allegedly missing component.
    - From the Federal documents I've read, it doesn't appear that these new regulations require to you ACT by 2016, merely begin monitoring, and that's by 2020, and start the process of upgrading slowly from that point.
    - I understand our current facility is up to 40 years old, depending on which portion of it you speak of. Is this ancient in terms of WWTP's? 40 years seems like a relatively young age for such massive infrastructure, considering some of our underground infrastucture is over 100 years old. Again, only unbiased experts could confirm or deny this. The big question is: Does that require us to perform a $220M+ overhaul?

  3. The average age of a WWTP in Canada was 17.8 years in 2007, up from 17.4 in 2001. The average useful life is 28.2 years.