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Challenges facing mechanical wastewater systems in the North

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Regardless of the community and the wastewater process, the natural environment in the north affects access for construction, operation and maintenance, due to extreme and highly variable weather. The climate in the far north is extremely cold, with an average daily mean temperature of less than 0oC. This means that all infrastructure must be designed and constructed for protection against freezing and, in some cases, thawing.

There are generally great distances between northern communities and major centres further south. In Nunavut, for example, none of the communities have all-weather road access. They must rely solely on year round access by air, and resupply between late July and mid-October.

These factors mean that the design and construction of a mechanical WWTP in the far north should follow well-established procedures and practices. The selection of a WWTP process for the north should be carefully executed, because the area is not an appropriate testing ground for new technologies or technologies that do not have a track record.

In designing a facility, the consulting resources applied should have the appropriate northern experience. This goes for expertise in all of the technical disciplines associated with a WWTP, i.e., wastewater process, structural, geotechnical, heating, ventilation, electrical, instrumentation and controls. Contractors too should have the appropriate northern experience, or they will likely encounter problems during the project.

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Administrators of the construction contract for a WWTP must have the resources in place to provide comprehensive contract monitoring, reporting and responses from start to finish. Without this, a project can deviate from its objectives and may not recover properly,

Effectively engaging the local population is vital to the successful operation and maintenance of a wastewater treatment plant. This facility is an important legacy that should last a generation, and positively impact the human and financial resources of the community.

Each and every project in the north is unique, so ultimately there is no “recipe” for success. However, by sharing project experiences, the potential list of things that can go wrong when a project is underway may be greatly reduced.

Glenn Prosko and David Lycon are with Stantec. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s February 2016 issue.

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