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By Robert Abernethy

Remote communities face unique challenges. Their partial or full isolation due to geographic accessibility and separation from the electrical and natural gas network make providing efficient, high quality water treatment expensive and difficult.

According to a 2006 Statistics Canada Census, there are 292 remote aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities and commercial outposts in Canada, with a total population of almost 200,000. Yellowknife, Whitehorse and the Magdalene Islands account for about 28% of this total.

The common characteristics of remote communities, such as limited/seasonal road access, shortage of services, small populations and limited education, mean many share a similar plight in terms of the ability to provide safe drinking water. It is expensive and complex, with no one-size-fits-all solution. Some of these communities are unfortunate examples of water infrastructure planning not taking into account these restrictions. Too often, the result is poorly functioning multi-million-dollar water treatment systems.

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Physical considerations, such as road access, weather, distance from the nearest urban centre, have considerable influence on the cost of equipment and materials. Rarely can the equipment, materials, engineering know-how and construction crews be sourced locally.

Upgrading such water treatment plants is expensive and communities with small populations often do not have the funds to handle the extra costs for even basic, conventional water treatment. Should a community seek alternative disinfection methods and multi-barrier approaches, the cost is even more prohibitive. Even if capital costs are scraped together, the ongoing operating expense may be the undoing of the project.

Another issue, particularly in First Nations communities who receive top-of-the-line water infrastructure, may be the availability of trained operators to successfully operate and maintain the system.

Addressing the situation

A relatively inexpensive source of ready-made infrastructure is recycled shipping containers. They have found second lives as schools, hydroponic greenhouses, store fronts and alternative housing. Costing $1,000 – $5,000, these containers have been tested in water treatment, and provide an affordable, durable and pragmatic approach to hosting package water treatment plants (PWPs).

PWPs can be ideal for remote locations, as they address many challenges:

  • They are transportable, allowing them to be designed and built off-site, reducing the need for multiple expensive shipments of materials and equipment.
  • They reduce reliance on local engineering services and personnel, as they are largely pre-calibrated before shipping.
  • The “plug-and-play” capabilities require little to no infrastructure modifications. Once in place, they can be “plugged” into the community’s local power supply and water infrastructure.
  • Financial risk is minimized, as there is a fixed, firm cost prior to delivery.

By simplifying infrastructure, PWPs are often substantially more affordable than conventional water treatment solutions. This, along with their versatility, makes them an ideal treatment solution.

WaterShed 3D rendering
3D digital rendering of an example interior of a WaterShed package water treatment plant.

Case study

Sunnyside, Newfoundland, has a population of less than 400 people, with fewer than 300 dwellings. The debris and minerals in its source water interacted negatively with chlorine disinfection, creating high-levels of potentially harmful disinfection by-products (DBPs) and unpleasant taste and smell in the drinking water. Sunnyside was concerned with the health effects of these DBPs and the frequency of boil-water advisories.

SanEcoTec was approved by the province’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment (MAE) to conduct a pilot in Sunnyside, using its AVIVE® drinking water treatment technology.

Initially, SanEcoTec upgraded the existing water treatment plant, ensuring that MAE-required chlorine contact times were met. Then, they integrated their dosing and monitoring technology with the Sunnyside system to inject stabilized hydrogen peroxide to mitigate the formation of chlorinated DBPs and provide an effective and long-lasting disinfection residual in distribution.

Upon confirmation that the dosing and monitoring technology was working, the next stage of the pilot was to provide a custom, pre-built filtration system contained within SanEcoTec’s PWP. WaterShed® was attached to the existing treatment facility, further enhancing system performance.

After implementation there was an immediate 70%+ reduction in DBPs, bringing the water quality to within Health Canada Guidelines. Sunnyside reduced the volume of treated water being used to flush the system by up to 50%. The distribution network remained substantially free of debris and biofilm buildup, as well as E. coli and total coliforms. This resulted in no more boil-water advisories.

The total system cost over 50% less than proposed conventional water treatment systems and effectively overcame many of the traditional obstacles found in a “remote” community.

Robert Abernethy, P.Eng, MBA, is with SanEcoTec Ltd. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s April 2019 issue.

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