As the City of Merritt remains under yet another flood watch, emergency repairs to the flooded wastewater treatment plant have allowed some evacuated residents to begin returning home in phases.
Thanks to assistance from eight water and wastewater operators from nearby Kelowna, who worked some 12 hours per day, Merritt’s wastewater treatment plant is finally back online.
Water supply within the city, however, remains restricted for what was a city of 7,000. Residents gradually returning to the city are still being encouraged to limit the use of water for bathing, dishwashing and laundry.
“It might seem counterintuitive, but it is actually beneficial for residents to continue using their toilets,” Merritt officials announced in a statement. “Biosolids contain bacteria that feed the ecosystem of our wastewater treatment plant and keep the germ-fighting bacteria alive.”
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The southwestern portion of the city was particularly inundated by the flooding, which began some two weeks ago. Atmospheric rivers, which are long, high plumes of water vapour that can travel through the sky and create incredibly intense rainfall, have been gaining attention as culprits for the ongoing flooding, and are feared to become more common due to climate change.
Rains over the weekend were the second of three successive atmospheric rivers that brought heavy rain to B.C. As of Sunday, the forecast for Merritt was calling for 40 – 60 mm of rain, and freezing levels are expected to rise to 1,800 metres, which means snow will melt.
The experienced water and wastewater operators from Kelowna were in Merritt for five days to lend support to the flood-ravaged community.
“We received the request for support late last week,” said Kelowna utility services manager Kevin Van Vliet in a media statement. “The Merritt team is small and mighty, but their systems are overwhelmed and they’re dealing with their own personal losses,” he added.
Van Vliet noted that Merritt’s wastewater system, including their primary treatment facility, was flooded, which brought rocks and silt into the system. Workers had to empty, clean and reseed with active biologicals to make the system operate effectively. After checking for leaks, the team needed to fully flush and disinfect the system before clean water could run again.
Fully treated effluent is being discharged into the river, as the city’s rapid infiltration basins are still being repaired, Merritt officials added. Water quality tests have been completed and the quality and quantity of treated water flowing into the river has been approved by the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
Impassable roads and a lack of access to water by emergency workers such as firefighters are still creating challenges, Merritt officials warned.
Residents living in Merritt’s Phase 2 are allowed home overnight but remain on alert, while residents in Phase 3 only have day access to their properties.