Wetland scientist Dickson Atuke

Wetland scientist Dickson Atuke

MPs tour wetland treatment facility

A groundbreaking wetland treatment facility at Olds College was a worthy stop for six curious members of Parliament on Wednesday.

OLDS — A groundbreaking wetland treatment facility at Olds College was a worthy stop for six curious members of Parliament on Wednesday.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, assigned to provide feedback on a national conservation plan, toured Olds College’s leading-edge wetland treatment facility.

Committee members — B.C. MPs Mark Warawa, Hedy Fry and James Lunney, Quebec MPs Francois Choquette and Francois Pilon, and Manitoba MP Lawrence Toet — got the chance to see the one-of-a-kind, $6.8-million, 12-acre project.

Built in 2009, the wetland treatment facility, located over the northern fence of Olds College’s campus, focuses on the treatment of storm water, municipal wastewater, water produced from oil and gas facilities and runoff from intensive livestock operations.

Olds College is investigating how wetlands can reduce the negative impacts on the environment and how they can help a diminishing water supply.

“There is huge potential to what this research project can do for wetland development and environmental sustainability across Canada,” said Olds College development advancement director Ken Risi.

“The technology that we are going to develop here can be applied from B.C. to Newfoundland so it has opened up a lot of eyes.”

The facility, officially known as Botanic Gardens III and Treatment Wetlands, can easily be seen from Hwy 27. There are 20 treatment ponds, a series of which are split up for industrial research and for urban research, Risi explained.

“We want to find the answers on how we deal with processed water out of agriculture and oil and gas.

“And we also want to deal with runoff in an urban situation so we are looking at the different types of pollutants that can enter a watershed system,” Risi said.

Warawa, chair of the standing committee, said they have been looking at the importance of man-made wetlands. He believes that Olds College is a leader in reclamation and the reintroduction of wetlands, which are critical for a sustainable environment.

“The national conservation plan has to include sustainability,” he said.

“The impact of human activity has made some changes to the environment that we need to take a serious look at. We need to fix some of the mistakes in the past,” Warawa said.

Wetlands factor into the environment’s ability to store and purify water. In Alberta, 70 per cent of wetlands have already been lost — a concern that Olds College’s Centre for Innovation is trying to address.

“We need this to create a healthier environment,” Centre of Innovation director Abimbola Abiola said.

“We hope there is going to be more innovation and this shows that we have the capacity at Olds College to work with government.”