It’s been cleared of trees, flattened and trenched, made level with the river, and sat idle during high water.

Some McBride residents have wondered what’s so “eco” about the eco-park.

But while the lagoon expansion has been held up by high river waters, no spillage has occurred into the Fraser due to flooding, says Eliana Clements, administrator for the Village of McBride. And the project may be on track to offer a fast-growing source of biomass to a local producer.

The “moonscape” as some McBride residents have dubbed the lagoon construction project, will upgrade the current sewage treatment system to today’s standards. The current system was built to 1972 standards – with grandfathered permits allowing larger amounts and lower quality effluent into the Fraser River than would be allowed today.

Ammonia is one substance that is currently not monitored in treated effluent that reaches the Fraser, says Chris Morgan, an applied science technologist with engineering firm Radloff and Associates who is helping to oversee the project.

“That’s one parameter that isn’t enforced at this point,” he says. “That will change with the new permit.”

Until now, the raw sewage entered the first lagoon and remained there for about a month. Naturally occurring bacteria and algae as well as the sun broke down the waste, and by the time the sewage reached the far side of the lagoon and exits into the river, it was mostly treated.

The new system will still allow a maximum of 510 cubic metres of treated wastewater to enter the Fraser River on a given day, but the quality will be much higher, Morgan says. The lagoon is designed to allow the wastewater more time to decompose before it ever reaches a body of water. Three lagoon cells will break down the waste before it flows into the wetland and woodlot, where plants and trees will help uptake nutrients that could otherwise seep into the Fraser River.

The Village currently monitors the water’s exit flow into the river, the biological oxygen demand and the total suspended solids, Morgan says. In the future, they’ll also be monitoring ammonia levels as well as phosphorus.

Too much organic matter in the water leads to algae blooms and high ammonia levels can be toxic to fish.

Flooding events

This year the Fraser River swelled to one metre below the berm – a one in 25 year weather event.
The berms – which will eventually be planted with grass – are built to withstand a one in 200 year event.
“It’s a rainfall/storm event that is so intense you’d only ever see a storm of that severity occurring every 200 years,” Morgan says, adding the Ministry of Environment provides that data based on calculations for regular flows and past flood levels.

Clements says the clay liner prevents any water from seeping into the ground. They needed to punch holes in one of the lagoons and the wetland which didn’t have waste in it yet, to prevent the pressure from the river from caving into the construction zone – but this was only a temporary measure and no sewage was present.

They have not had any trouble with sampling the water, she adds.

The water level is still too high to finish construction. Morgan says they hope to have the third cell and wetland completed by October or November. The area needed to be cleared of trees in order for the work to take place. Trees and shrubs will be planted as well as natural growth to come back when construction is completed likely in 2014.

Next year the village will plant the wetland area with bull rushes, cattails, reeds etc. The whole area including wetland and woodlot will be fenced and the walking trail, currently blocked, will be raised higher up in areas to prevent flooding.

Biomass Potential

The Village has secured a long-term agreement with Northland Properties Corp. (Sandman Hotels) for the use of the land for wastewater treatment. The Park is named after the Gaglardis who founded the Sandman Corp. in 1967.

“This lagoon system is similar to lagoons all over the world,” Morgan says. “They’re very low operating cost and low construction cost system, but they’re real-estate expensive.”

He says the woodlot idea is used elsewhere in BC such as Kamloops. A grove of birch trees planted near their treatment facility is growing at two to three times their natural rate, due to the rich soil conditions.

He says the woodlot could help supply a local biomass facility.

ecoTECH Energy Group is one biomass facility proposed for the area.

The woodlot will be managed by the Village and the Community Forest. They haven’t decided on what species they will plant – likely a variety of trees to experiment.