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Regional wastewater project wins Project of the Year Award

North America’s longest pressurized sewer system has earned the admiration of a Missouri-based construction group.

North America’s longest pressurized sewer system has earned the admiration of a Missouri-based construction group.

During its annual conference late in August, the Kansas City-based American Public Works Association will present a Project of the Year award to the South Red Deer Regional Wastewater System, which serves Mountain View County, Olds, Bowden, Innisfail, Penhold and Red Deer County. The system had been nominated in the environmental category for small cities and rural communities of under 75,000 people.

The line runs 90 kilometres from Olds to Red Deer and was put into service last year, collecting wastewater from all six municipalities for treatment at the City of Red Deer’s wastewater plant.

Design and construction were contracted to Stantec Consulting and Pidherney’s Inc., at a total cost of $140 million, not including a $50-million upgrade to the plant.

In a statement released on Monday, the APWA said the system alleviates pressure facing member communities that were dealing with overloaded wastewater facilities.

“The length of the Red Deer River Regional Wastewater System posed a huge design challenge in a highly populated corridor and crossed several environmentally sensitive areas,” said the APWA.

“Each government body — municipal, provincial and federal — had individual requirements that had to be met. The final product is a unique and sophisticated system.”

The primary incentive for the project was the need to protect the water supply by closing aging sewer systems that discharged effluent into the Red Deer River and its tributaries, said Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper, who chaired the South Red Deer Regional Wastewater Commission for six years and is now its vice-chair.

“We worked very hard over a number of years with Stantec,” Cooper said on Monday.

“It truly is a unique endeavour in the fact that it is the longest pressurized regional sewer in North America. It’s built to withstand 20 years of growth.

“It gives people a picture of what the future can be for places such as Blackfalds and Lacombe, who are going to be doing the same thing as we are. Also, eventually maybe Sylvan Lake. It shows how a regional sewer can be built and make it in such a matter that it works successfully, so we can treat the effluent and everybody lives well.”

With the provincial government continually raising standards for wastewater treatment systems, many of the communities in the region were reaching capacity in their existing systems and were under pressure to perform costly upgrades.

The Town of Olds had been forced to slow the pace of growth because it’s sewer system was nearing capacity, said Cooper.

Innisfail was also under pressure, so Bowden was dragged in by default, although its lagoon system had a life expectancy of 25 years, said Mayor Robb Stuart, who is now chair of the commission.

Although Bowden represents only five per cent of the system’s total capacity, the amount charged to ratepayers for waste treatment tripled to $1.95 per cubic metre to cover upgrades to its lifting station and its share of the line costs, said Stuart.

“In the big picture, on the Town of Bowden’s side, it was kind of a sticker shock,” said Stuart.

“We were glad to do our part for the environment, really, whether it costs us money or not.”

Cooper said changes in practices and regulations have made a remarkable difference along the river, which no longer carries the algae growth that could be seen downstream from wastewater treatment plants.

Along with the APWA award, the Red Deer South system has been recognized by a number of other organizations, including Project of the Year from the APWA’s Alberta chapter, the Summit Award for Project of the Year from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta and an Award of Excellence from the Consulting Engineers of Alberta, said Chief Operating Officer Bob Jenkins, former Lacombe town manager.

Of course, cutting-edge projects of the Red Deer South’s scope do not come without their headaches, said Jenkins.

The system is built to a much larger capacity than what it currently carries, so the wastewater in the line moves very slowly and decomposes along the way, creating a foul odour that is gassed off at the four lift stations and at a site in the northeast corner of Red Deer.

People living near the site have complained of gas odours so strong, they have been made sick to their stomachs. One of the residents has been asked to keep a log of the incidents and engineers responsible for the system are working on ways to fix the problem and alleviate their distress, said Jenkins.

The Red Deer South System replaces municipal facilities for all six of the six communities involved. The Waskasoo system, which had piped wastewater to the Red Deer plant from Penhold, continues to serve Springbrook and Gasoline Alley.

Plans are in the works for two more regional systems, serving municipalities north and west of Red Deer.

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