What does it really mean when the City of Fernie attains a permit to discharge “treated effluent” to the Elk River?
For many residents, seeing a notice in the paper or online that the City is discharging wastewater to the Elk River is alarming. It may bring many questions to mind. For example: is the City actually dumping our raw sewage in the river!? Obviously, this would be unacceptable! I hope this short article may serve to educate and ease concerns around these advisories.
Photo by Allie Dickhout
How does Fernie’s wastewater treatment system work under normal circumstances?
Usually, these are the three stages of treatment:
- waste water is filtered and large debris is removed,
- waste water is pumped to treatment facility and into a series of three lined ‘aeration basins’,
- after aeration basins, water flows into un-lined ‘infiltration basins’ where it is discharged into the ground, entering the ground water system and eventually the river.
The majority of the treatment happens in the aeration basin using biological methods. This means that bacteria are used to break down the waste. The air pumped into the systems provide dissolved oxygen which the bacteria require. Waste water (called effluent once treatment begins) travels through each of the three aeration basins before being send to the infiltration basins. The last stage of treatment uses the natural soils and gravels as a final filter before water will make its way back to the river. Overall, this is more of a ‘passive’ system, i.e. letting natural processes do the work. The downside of this system is that it takes time. Under normal circumstances, this is not a concern, but under very high flows the system cannot fully treat all the water passively. Also, if the water level is high, it will take especially long for water to exit the infiltration basins (the ground is already saturated so the water doesn’t really have anywhere to go).
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A flood of successes during a year of drought – ERA’s 2015 Annual Report
Fernie, B.C. – 2015 has been a year of contrasts. The Elk River Watershed Alliance’s (ERA) biggest project, the Elk River Flood Solutions Strategy, is occuring ironically during the worst drought in years! “During our 2015 research and flood modelling, these vast contrasts are likely to be the new norm. To plan for climatic events on a scale we have never seen before, we need to work together in the watershed to plan and be prepared for these extremes. Fortunately this is the goal of this Strategy”, says Lee-Anne Walker, ERA Executive Director.
Given the dry hot summer Elk River watershed residents both connected to and showed their love for their water and watershed. The Elkford ATV club hauled out the biggest piece of trash at the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup – a 25 ton bridge north of Elkford. A dozen men from Teck’s ‘Leading for the Future’ training program helped ERA remove weirs blocking fish passage on Coal Creek. Over a hundred Fernie Chrisitan youth, Fernie Secondary School students and community members cleaned up the Elk River shoreline in Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford.
To support the many diverse projects in 2015, ERA raised $260,000 with $50,000 in-kind donations, primarily mapping data, as well as prizes like a handmade bamboo fly rod at Our River Rocks. “These resources coming to the community support contractors, professional services, and locally purchased supplies and equipment”, comments Walker. “We gratefully acknowledge our funders and supporters in our Annual Report”.
ERA’s summer camp was full both weeks with 34 youth age 10-14 discovering the watershed in July and August. The Flood Outreach and Community Education program reached over 1000 people from age 2-82 at special events, library programs and summer recreation camps. ERA partnered for the second year with Teck during Mining Week to reach 332 Grade 7-11 students from 16 classes in the watershed to better understand the importance and challenge of soil sustainability and management during the UN International Year of Soil.
ERA reached year 5 for their community-based water monitoring program on Lizard and Alexander Creeks with Streamkeepers volunteering 122 hours to collect water quality at 8 different sites. “This data collected fills gaps in information on important tributaries to the Elk River and makes the information available to the public, increasing our watershed literacy”, noted Lee-Anne Walker, ERA’s Executive Director. “We also use the data to prioritize collaborative restoration efforts”.
An old African poverb sums up ERA’s approach: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. ERA is heartend by the effort of Elk River residents, decision makers and industry to work together to solve watershed issues, while protecting watershed resilience and water quality. “For 2016, do one thing everyday to care for our water and pass it on – we all live downstream”, reminds Walker.
Photo below: "Elkford ATV club members hauled out a 25 ton bridge washed off its pilings in the 2013 flood from the Elk River shoreline - likely the largest piece of 'trash' in a waterway in Canada'.Read more
For the month of December and launch of our community-based water monitoring fundraiser campaign, ERA will be offering incentives to donors of $20 or more!
For $20 donation, receive a lifetime ERA membership.
For $30 donation, receive 2 gift cards by local artist Laura Nelson
PLUS lifetime ERA membership.
For $50 donation, receive quick dry ERA t-shirt. Men's (crew neck)
and women's (V neck) styles available PLUS lifetime ERA membership.
Visit our new campaign page to support ERA's community-based
water monitoring program and donate to receive an ERA gift!
ERA executive director Lee-Anne Walker comments on a new report from POLIS: "Awash with Opportunity: Ensuring the Sustainability of B.C.'s New Water Law. Your ideas are needed!
"As the BC Government enacts the new BC Water Sustainability Act, replacing the 106-year old Water Act, the Elk River Alliance supports this new approach which includes, among many other aspects, bottom-up, community coordinated planning and decision making. ERA is actively monitoring and reporting on ecosystem health and water quality in Alexander and Lizard Creeks and supports BC implement a systematic water monitoring and publically accessible data that assesses watershed-wide aquatic ecosystem, a data base of water quality/quantity and annual state of our water reports. ERA supports integrating water issues into land and resource use decision making. ERA is currently participating in innovative on-the-ground, shared and innovative watershed planning initiatives such as Elk Valley Cumulative Effects Management Framework. These new partnerships and governance models will require funding and resources to articulate and implement a water sustainability plan for the Elk River watershed."
Please share your ideas on how ERA should get involved in new broad-based opportunities to implement this new legislation.
Read the full report here.
Please join us at our Annual General Meeting to learn what we've accomplished together in 2015!
Where: Park Place Lodge 742 Highway #3 Fernie, B.C.
When: October 27, 2015 4:00 – 9:00 p.m.
A general open house will run from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a presentation at 6:30 p.m., then a question and answer and open discussion session. Refreshments will be provided.
On September 3rd, 2015 the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations released the change to the Kootenay Angling Management Plan outlined in the Media Release below. The main change is the introduction of capping licenses for non-resident anglers on the Wigwam River, Skookumchuck Creek and Michel Creek in order to reduce fishing pressure. The Elk River is not included in this capping system. Non-resident anglers will have access to a limited number of non-guided licenses. Once these are sold, non-resident anglers will be required to fish with a licensed guide.
Jon Poirier schools some youngins
Tired of just telling tall tales about your fishing? Join the first-ever Elk River fly-fishing skills event! Enter to compete in one of 3 categories: Youth (18 and under), Adult/Masters (19+) and Professional (fishing guides). Registration form below.Read more
Check out our new video about Community Based Water Monitoring with beautiful shots of the Elk Valley!