Engineering staff ponder necessity of phosphorus clean-up
By Andy Stonehouse
Whistler's chief engineer will be meeting with members of the Squamish River Watershed Committee next week to discuss the findings of a study into phosphorus levels in the Cheakamus River.
The meeting comes after Brian Barnett, manager of environmental services for the municipality, recently met with representatives of BC Hydro. Barnett said he also plans on talking over the study's findings with Ministry of Environment staff later this summer.
The report, issued to Whistler council last month, suggests that effluent flows from Whistler's water treatment plant are not the culprit behind a heavy dose of phosphorus, which is causing algae growth in the sensitive lower reaches of the river.
Natural rock sources in the Rubble Creek valley seem to play a bigger role in releasing phosphorus into the water than the by-products of sewage treatment.
The $120,000 study, commissioned by the municipality and conducted by Limnotek Research, recommended that proposed improvements to the municipality's waste water treatment plant would not have a significant impact on reducing algae, and that the $4 million cost of the equipment could be more effectively used elsewhere.
In an interview following his meeting with BC Hydro, Barnett said the local government may still consider the improved scrubbing equipment at the waste water plant, especially if it contributes to the health of the river system.
"The way the muni is looking at it, we have to do what's best for the river," he said. "We don't want to save $4 million at the cost of the river. If it would work to cut the levels, it's money well-spent. It's not a question of money but of environmental protection."
Barnett said BC Hydro is now examining the results of the two-year study and will make decisions on the impact of releasing more water from the Daisy Lake reservoir.
Barnett said the study results do give Whistler an element of breathing room, especially as the phosphorus problem does not seem to stem from treated waste water.
"The findings are definitely a relief, and confirm that the phosphorus load will be within provincial guidelines. The Cheakamus currently has levels of phosphorus that some other rivers need artificial loading to reach. And as the local population grows, it appears that the phosphorus will stay at a consistent level. In many ways, they're ideal conditions."
He explained that the equipment planned as part of the $4 million upgrade is actually not even the most technically advanced filtering system, making it a bit of a questionable investment.
"We have to think about what we get from the money. What happens to the river if we cut the equipment — there's already so much from natural sources that the instruments wouldn't detect it. Perhaps it would be better to put the money into something like the bear program or other forms of sewage treatment."