February 08, 2018

Erin rejects wastewater cost cuts

The possibility of cutting back the capacity of Erin’s proposed wastewater system, with a savings of $8.8 million, was rejected unanimously by town council at a special meeting Jan. 26.
The possibility of scaling down the system was discussed previously, and council had asked Environmental Assessment consultant Ainley Group for a report. They wanted to deal with the issue before this week’s Public Information Centre – on Friday, Feb. 2 at Centre 2000, 6-9 p.m.
A treatment system with capacity beyond what is needed even for current population projections will give Erin flexibility for several future revisions of the Official Plan, said Ainley President Joe Mullan.
“The trunk sewer system and the treatment plant infrastructure will service the community for many decades,” he said, noting that some components could operate for 100 years.
 “It was the prudent course of action, ensuring capacity for commercial and industrial expansion,” said Coun. Jeff Duncan, who had pushed for the analysis.
Had council ordered a lowering of the sewage flow rate, Ainley would have charged $40,000 to revise five of its technical reports.
A key factor in designing a wastewater system is the maximum amount of liquid that a treatment plant could handle. This is based partly on average water consumption in the community, which from 2013 to 2015 was 195 litres per person, per day (L/p/d).
A factor of 2.8 persons per home is used in the projections, which is currently set for an urban population growing from the current 4,500 to about 14,600 over 20-30 years.
Ainley has added a “safety factor” of about 50 per cent to the water flow allowance, resulting in a rating of 290 L/p/d. Then, as required by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), they added an extra 90 L/d/p for infiltration (water that typically leaks into sewer pipes, increasing flow to the plant).
This has resulted in a proposed flow rate of 380 L/p/d. This was criticized as too high at a public meeting last June, even though it is lower than the flow rate of used by consultant B.M. Ross when they completed the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan in 2014.
It would mean a sewage treatment plant large enough to handle an average flow of 7,172 cubic metres of liquid, or 7.2 megalitres per day (MLD). No estimate has been provided of how large an urban population this could support, but it is beyond 14,600.
These numbers were used for the cost estimate of $118 million for full build-out of the whole system, including a treatment plant costing $61.1 million.
Ainley analyzed the possibility of cutting the safety factor down to 15 per cent, effectively reducing the total flow rate to 315 L/p/d, or 6.23 MLD.
That would reduce the cost of the plant to $54.3 million. There would be additional savings on pumping stations and sewer mains of about $2 million, for a total savings of $8.8 million. A portion of the savings would go to developers helping to pay for the system.
Mullan noted in his report that both the flow rate recommended for Erin, and the allowance for water infiltration are both lower than the levels used in the City of Guelph and the Regions of Peel and Waterloo including their member municipalities.
Other factors cited for building extra capacity include the fact that current water usage may be at a “conserved” low level, and could increase once residents are not concerned about septic systems in their yards.
The development of secondary suites on existing properties is expected to increase wastewater flows.

February 01, 2018

ERIN INSIGHT – Wastewater process requires trust

It would be incorrect to say that Erin’s urbanites will have no choices to make about the wastewater system that’s coming down the pipe.
Apart from three subdivisions that will be exempt from servicing, residents will probably be allowed to pay their share of the construction cost by cheque, or take out a loan from the Town of Erin at a very competitive interest rate.
The engineers we hired two years ago (for $883,770) were polite and professional while explaining the process to members of the Public Liaison Committee last week, but something did not feel right.
It would be too harsh to call it arrogance, but they projected an attitude of absolute certainty. They had done their tasks according to professional standards and traditions within their industry, so there were no crucial choices left to make.
The preferred options were to be self-evident in hundreds of pages of technical reports (downloadable at erin.ca), so their only duties were to offer brief explanations and listen to feedback – not to convince anybody of anything. Such a complex process requires a level of trust, and it can be difficult to achieve.
The best thing residents can do is make an effort to be informed. They can do that on Friday, Feb. 2, at a Public Information Centre, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Centre 2000, with a presentation at 7 p.m.
Our previous consultant B.M. Ross was telling us more than five years ago that we should build traditional gravity sewers, with some small pressurized sections in low-lying areas. The new consultant Ainley Group is telling us the same thing, in greater detail.
The residents and politicians of Erin may not be technically qualified to alter any aspects of a wastewater system, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try.
Transition Erin has pushed for a “small-bore” system, in which each property would have a new septic tank, discharging treated liquid to a system of small sewer pipes (4-8 inches in diameter). These would work mainly via gravity, with no pumps or grinders on people’s properties.
Such systems do exist, but both of our consultants have been against them, and there doesn’t appear to be much council support. Ainley’s task was to analyze the options.
Their report says the advantages of a small pipe system include less excavation, minimal water infiltration, no solids being transported, lower capital costs and low maintenance.
The list of disadvantages includes the large number of tanks on private property, pipes more subject to blockage, the need to pump out the tanks, corrosive effluent and the fact that these systems are not widely used in Canada, and not on this scale.
“Production of odour is common from improper house ventilation, manholes and system vents,” says the report. There would be extra costs for odour control at all pumping stations.
Transition Erin wants the small pipe option re-scored in the technical evaluation, based on their input, which could make it the preferred system. They also say Ainley has not projected a substantially smaller and less costly treatment plant needed for a small pipe system.
Council would have to order the new analysis, which could be costly. Though if it is valid, it should have been done in the first place.
Part of the frustration comes from false expectations about public input. Just because there is a “consultation” process doesn’t mean that public comments will change the details of what is planned. Even elected councillors have little influence on the plan.
Most infrastructure engineers work in a world of established standards, and comparisons with what has been done in other Ontario towns. Without a specific mandate from their customer to follow an innovative path, they will tend to opt for the low-risk, established process, even if it costs more.

Community Improvement Plan takes shape

An open house on Feb. 13 will present the public with various options for the Town of Erin Community Improvement Plan (CIP), expected to launch this spring.
Town council has endorsed the general idea of the program, which will provide grants or loans to local businesses to help pay eligible costs for physical improvements that will benefit the community.
Initial funding of $20,000 has been approved for the CIP, which could cover the entire town. A variety of incentive programs will be possible, but there has been no decision yet on which ones would initially be used.
The Feb. 13 open house will be held at Centre 2000, 6 to 8 p.m. There will be a presentation at 6.30 p.m., light refreshments and a question and answer time.
 “The main focus will be getting input from the community,” said Economic Development Officer Robyn Mulder.
Council received an update on the plan at their Jan. 16 meeting from Mulder, and Nancy Reid of Stantec, the consultant hired to help design the program. It would work in cooperation with a Wellington County CIP called Invest Well, which could provide additional support in Erin.
“The CIP should help reshape the town and provide support for certain types of redevelopment,” said Mulder. “It should communicate that the town is ‘open for business’. It could generate revenue to help balance out the taxes in this town, and attract other investors.”
Substantial improvements to buildings would mean greater tax assessment, though one of the possible incentives could defer those tax increases.
The ratio of grants to loans has not been determined, but repayment of loans could put money back into the program.
Other incentives include fa├žade, signage and property improvements, accessibility projects, design and study funding, and building conversions and expansions.
Councillor Matt Sammut was concerned that the program not cast too wide a net. “I don’t want to put public money into private hands and have no value to the community,” he said.
Mulder assured him that council will still have input on the eligibility criteria, and that the experience of other communities shows that business owners invested substantially in the projects. The total value of the construction was three to five times more than the grants in Haldimand County, Elgin County and the Township of Centre Wellington.

Farmers taking action to improve water quality


Everyone benefits when water quality is improved, and the Wellington Rural Water Quality Program is helping farmers do their part.
Wellington County provided $425,000 for the program in 2017 to support farmers on a wide range of projects that not only enhance their operations but safeguard or improve local water and soil. Similar programs with different levels of funding are available in other areas.
“The counties and regions provide this money voluntarily, because they see the benefit to the community,” said Louise Heyming, Supervisor of Conservation Outreach with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA).
The benefits of improved water quality, according to the program terms of reference, include a safe, secure water supply, a healthy aquatic ecosystem, increased recreational opportunities, sustainable agricultural operations and a vibrant economy.
Buffer zones next to waterways reduce erosion and the runoff of fertilzers and pesticides, 
and help create a better habitat for fish and other wildlife.
Photo - Grand River Conservation Authority
The program promotes a positive attitude in the farm community, encouraging the adoption of best management practices.
To qualify for support, farmers must attend a one-day educational workshop to create an Environmental Farm Plan. If their applications for specific projects are approved by a review committee, they can proceed with the work and receive compensation when it is complete.
The committee has representatives from local farm organisations, as well as the county and the Ministry of Agriculture. Priority is given to projects with the greatest potential to improve or protect water quality.
“The Rural Water Quality Program (RWQP) has provided a sustainable source of funding to assist the Wellington farm community for 18 years,” said Gary Cousins, former Wellington Planning Director, in a report last year. “Demand for the program remains high with an average of nearly 200 projects completed annually.”
The largest grants are up to $25,000, covering half the cost of manure storage structures. These reduce contamination of surface water and runoff into waterways.
Farms can be hard on the land, and the water that flows through it. The necessities of farming, from land clearing and fertilizer storage to the grazing of cattle have put a lot of stress on the environment. Farmers and conservation authorities are trying to strike a better balance on agricultural land, and reverse some of the damage done in the past.
Within the Grand River watershed, which includes the west half of the Town of Erin, the program not only improves the local environment but also reduces the nutrient impact on Lake Erie. All of the money provided by Wellington taxpayers goes to projects within the county.
Some funding is in the form of a “performance incentive”, based on the size of the project. For example, a farmer can receive $100 per acre for planting cover crops, which enrich the soil and reduce erosion. There is $350 per acre for planting trees on up to 10 acres, to create stream buffers, retire fragile land or create field windbreaks; and $500 per acre to plant living snow fences that retain moisture on the land and protect roadways from drifting snow.
The program stimulates private investment, since landowners often contribute an amount in cash, materials or labour. Since 1999, the program has funded more than 2,600 projects valued at more than $21.5 million. County farmers have contributed $13.5 million and the County of Wellington $5.1 million, with the remainder from other funding sources.
Some highlights include: 172 manure storage facilities, 46 kilometres of watercourse fences, 58 kilometres of stream bank buffers, 177 kilometres of windbreak, 12 kilometres of living snow fence, 408 wells decommissioned, 407 wells upgraded and 1,200 acres of marginal land retired.
The program is not just for farmers – there is $50,000 set aside for grants of up to $2,500 to cover 100 per cent of the cost to decommission old wells on any county property.
Other grants available include $5,000 for water diversion, $10,000 for livestock restriction, $10,000 for erosion control structures, $4,000 for fuel storage and handling, $5,000 for machinery crossings and $2,000 for wellhead protection. These cover 50-80 per cent of costs, but can be combined with other funding. Staff can assist with planning and the application process.
The Region of Peel started its own Rural Water Quality Program in 2005, working with Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) and the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
“Our family is proud of our contribution to protecting water quality,” said Sharon Rowe of Shallow Brook Farms, on the CVC website. “Every year, we’ll be able to watch the trees and shrubs we helped plant mature, enjoy the increased wildlife on our farm and appreciate the beauty of our naturalization project.”
For more information on the Peel program, contact Mark Eastman at CVC, meastman@creditvalleyca.ca.
 “The application process was surprisingly user-friendly and expedient. We received great support from program staff,” said Randal Ugolini, of Highpoint Farms in Caledon.
Funding from Dufferin County has been sporadic, but was recently renewed with a commitment of $20,000. For more information on the Wellington or Dufferin programs, go to grandriver.ca or email ruralwater@grandriver.ca.