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$10M filtration project at Whistler Wastewater Treatment Plant will likely lead to tax hike

Work is required to meet population growth and regulatory compliance after plant was not performing as intended
Whistler's Wastewater Treatment Plant in Cheakamus Crossing.

A multimillion-dollar upgrade to the Whistler Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) will likely lead to higher taxes and user fees for residents.

The Cheakamus Crossing facility treats Whistler’s domestic wastewater through a process that, in part, uses microbes instead of chemicals to remove harmful nutrients, which in turn reduces the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous, minimizing the impact on the Cheakamus River, where the community’s wastewater is eventually discharged.

According to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), the biological nutrient removal facility was “not performing as it was intended to operate” in 2019, 2020, and 2021. As a result, meeting the plant’s operational permit requirements and discharge criteria was “often difficult,” with a report to council earlier this month noting phosphorous removal is “an ongoing issue without chemical intervention.”

Last year, engineering consultant Tetra Tech was tapped to conduct a review of several major processes at the aging WWTP that looked at both current and anticipated future operating conditions. Tetra Tech eventually developed a multi-level plan to ensure the plant can meet population growth and ongoing regulatory compliance, and determined the addition of tertiary filtration is required to provide a “more reliable and robust process” for phosphorous removal. The filtration upgrades will also help reduce operational costs at the facility in the long run, municipal staff said.

At the Aug. 1 council meeting, elected officials greenlit staff’s recommendation to award a design contract for tertiary filtration in the amount of $926,168 to infrastructure consulting firm, AECOM, beating out fellow firm Stantec, which came in with a bid $976,495.

“I know we used to get a lot of comments from our neighbours downstream about the water quality and I don’t know if there’s been any comments because of the higher phosphorous, but I’m happy to see we’re tackling this,” said Councillor Cathy Jewett.

The new equipment and building housing it will be located between the WWTP’s existing administration and treatment buildings, at 1135 Cheakamus Lake Road.

The total budget for the entire multi-year project is $10,150,000, with $150,000 earmarked for this year, and $5 million each in 2024 and 2025. AECOM will administer the entire project.

Funds will come from the RMOW’s sewer reserve, which will dwindle in future years, between this project and others, said Chelsey Roberts, manager of infrastructure projects.

“This project and other major sewer projects will stress the sewer reserve over the next few years,” she said. “It is likely that the sewer parcel tax and user fees will need to increase, and grant funding will need to increase. Grant funding will be pursued for the tertiary filtration and for other projects funded from the sewer reserve.”

Pilot trials of the new equipment are slated for June 2024, with construction estimated to begin in the spring of 2025.

“It’s a significant project and one that’s very important, so thank you for your work getting to this stage and [we] look forward to the work over the next few years,” Mayor Jack Crompton said to staff following the presentation.

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