By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected] 

The Village of Canal Flats recently received a warning letter from the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change about its wastewater treatment facility. The village, however, is already aware of the issues, has secured a grant to help pay to fix them, and plans to do much of, if not all, the work this year.

The letter was sent after a ministry inspection of the village’s wastewater treatment facility earlier this winter. It highlighted failures in monitoring effluent discharge rates and sludge discharges; insufficient fencing to prevent unauthorized access; and maintenance issues with the facility’s infrastructure. It is the second such letter from the ministry about the facility in two years.

“There have been some issues with the sewage lagoon,” Canal Flats chief administrative officer Richard Wayken told the Pioneer, adding the first warning letter from the ministry was received in 2022 during his second day on the job.

The village has been trying to fix the situation ever since, and plans to have the problem solved later this year, in late summer or early fall.

Better fencing will go up, the sewage lagoon liners will be replaced, and the dike will be extended.

The total cost of the upgrades is $1.748 million, and the village recently got an Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant, which will cover $1.248 million of that. The village will kick in the remaining $500,000.

“The design is starting now,” said Wayken, adding “we need to extend the dike to protect the sewage lagoon because it’s right on the watershed.”

He noted that long-term planning has not necessarily been a strong suit for the Village of Canal Flats and that many other B.C. municipalities are in the same boat.

“This (the sewage lagoon letter) really does point to the bigger issue of long-term planning, especially when it comes to capital infrastructure,” he said. “The sewage lagoon dates back to the 1960s. The village has known for a long time that it needs fixing.”

The two main methods municipalities use to pay for large capital infrastructure projects — raising taxes and pursuing grants — simply don’t cut it, in Wayken’s view.

“We’re already taxed to death as it is. And grants are not always reliable . . . when you rely on grants, you don’t know when or if they will come through,” said Wayken.

As a case in point, he noted that this is the village’s third time applying for an ICIP grant to fix the wastewater treatment facility.

In the meantime, while waiting and hoping to score grant funding, the infrastructure continues to sit.

“The liners (of the sewage lagoon) are really due for replacement. They are past life expectancy,” said Wayken. “It got to the point that we’re now getting letters. And that elevates the conversation.”

He noted that it’s tough for municipalities to plan for the long term, as there are often many competing priorities, but it still needs to be done.

“We need to look to alternative solutions for funding. We have to get creative. We have to do better as a municipality, and we can do better,” said Wayken.

What options, other than grants and increasing taxes, does a small municipality such as Canal Flats have to pay for large infrastructure projects?

Wayken noted the possibility of private-public partnerships, as well as using municipal land for things such as golf courses, hotels, restaurants or other revenue-generating services. He also suggested it would be a good idea for the village to look at what other municipalities do to help pay or plan for big capital projects.