Wastewater becomes a wetlands wonder

A red winged blackbird takes flight over the Western Acres Wetland near Beaverly. Bill Phillips photo
A red winged blackbird takes flight over the Western Acres Wetland near Beaverly. Bill Phillips photo

Andrea Byrne, Environmental Assistant with the city and Tyler Olsen, also with the city, explain the Western Acres lagoon and wetland system. Bill Phillips photo
Andrea Byrne, Environmental Assistant with the city and Tyler Olsen, also with the city, explain the Western Acres lagoon and wetland system. Bill Phillips photo

Flushing the toilet can lead to beautiful things.

That’s the case for people who live in the Western Acres subdivision, just east of Beaverly.

Sewage from residents in Western Acres is treated through a lagoon system just off Muralt Road that also serves as a wetland area, rife with birds, beavers, deer, moose, and other wildlife.

“Lagoons are important as they are a natural method of treating wastewater, meaning they are non-mechanical and non-chemical,” said Andrea Byrne, Environmental Assistant with the city. “This also means they require much less maintenance and cost much less to operate than a wastewater treatment facility. However, lagoons require much more space than modern treatment facilities, which isn’t always available in an urban environment given the significant volumes of wastewater created by a city.”

The city is hosting an open house and wetland tour to mark the BC Water and Waste Association’s Water Week (May 6 to 12) and to provide information on the city’s sanitary lagoons and the wetland system at Western Acres. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

“Our Water Week open house last year focused on how water gets to your tap, so this year we are focusing on what happens to water once it goes down the drain,” she said. “What happens once that water goes down the drain, who are the people who work to make it clean, and why do we make it clean.”

City Staff from the Utilities and Environment Divisions will be on-hand to provide information on the lagoon wetland system and how wastewater is treated at the facility. The event will be held on Thursday, May 10 from 1-3 p.m. at the Western Acres Wetlands in the 8000 block of Muralt Rd., which can be accessed from Muralt Rd. off of Blackwater Road.

“There’s about 50 houses that are connected to the (Western Acres) system,” she said. “The water goes through three cells and each cell has a little bit more treatment. It will be broken down by the sun and the wind and bacteria will breakdown the organic matter.”

The city owns and operates five lagoons, which treat approximately four per cent of the city’s wastewater. The remaining 96 per cent is treated at the city’s Landowne Road Wastewater Treatment Centre.

The city’s four other lagoons are:

Danson Lagoon – Danson Industrial Park, corner of Boundary Road and Willow Cale Road

BCR Lagoon – BCR Industrial Park, north end of Willow Cale Road

Blackburn Lagoons – Foreman Road

Shelley Lagoon – Shelley Road by the Fraser-Fort George Regional District Transfer Station

Western Acres is an engineered wetland, meaning it was adapted to accommodate the wastewater system. However, the creek and wetland naturally existed beforehand. The lagoon provides excellent wildlife habitat for several species of birds, including geese and ducks, amphibians, muskrats and beavers. Wetlands are also important for ungulate species such as deer and moose because of the vegetation, and provides habitat for coyotes, foxes, and small mammals such as voles and squirrels.

“Lagoons are an example of how urban development can work with the natural environment,” said Byrne. “They act as a natural filtration device that absorb and filter sediments, pollutants, and excess nutrients. They also recharge groundwater, maintain stream flows, control runoff, store flood waters, reduce erosion, stabilize shorelines, and help to regulate atmospheric gases and climate cycles.”

How Western Acres Lagoon “works”

Primary treatment occurs upstream in the three-celled Western Acres Lagoon. Blackwater (water from toilets) from Western Acres goes through the three cells where it is broken down by the sun, wind, algae, and bacteria. Through the three-cell system, the blackwater is converted into cleaner greywater, as organic materials are broken down and sink to the base of the lagoon to decompose. The greywater is then discharged to Hiller Creek once it meets the proper conditions for coliforms (bacteria), total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and excess nutrients where it then moves to secondary treatment in the Western Acres Wetlands.

Secondary treatment involves “polishing” of the greywater by further reducing TSS and BOD through filtration through the wetland vegetation and natural mixing in the wetland. Microorganisms that live in the wetlands plants and soils remove any biodegradable material from the water through decomposition, and aquatic plants (such as cattails) absorb excess nutrients and carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Once the water is fully treated in the wetland it returns to Hiller Creek. Discharge only occurs once water quality guidelines and creek flow conditions are met.

The city has a permit with the Ministry of Environment to discharge into Hiller Creek. Effluent water quality and lagoon levels are monitored, as are the integrity of the berms for signs of erosion or rodent damage. Lagoons are inspected by staff every day except holidays. Grounds maintenance is performed as needed and weed and rodent control is in place.

A birdhouse at Western Acres Wetland just off Muralt Road west of Prince George. Bill Phillips photo
A birdhouse at Western Acres Wetland just off Muralt Road west of Prince George. Bill Phillips photo