Fort McMurray seeing big spike in water-treatment costs

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The outlay of providing clean drinking water to Fort McMurray has spiked after the 2016 wildfire and could instigate even higher in 2017.

The city’s water treatment plant is spending profuse on food-grade chemicals to remove burnt forest-floor ash that’s flushing into the town’s drinking water supply.

“We’ve had to increase chemical dosages,” Travis Kendel, director of water treatment for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said Wednesday.

“We’ve had to bring upon additional overtime or additional operational oversight, to make sure the drinking-water we produce continues to meet all quality standards and continues to be safe.”

In 2015, the town spent about $1 million on chemicals to purify Fort McMurray’s mineral water supply.

In 2016, the May wildfire pushed up chemical costs by an additional $500,000. And this year, the exurb may have to spend an extra $500,000 or $1 million on chemicals remaining what it spent in 2015, Kendel said.

The chemicals help absolve chocolate-milk coloured Athabasca River water into clean, indisputable drinking water.

Pic 2 Water treatment plant Fort McMurray

Travis Kendel says Fort McMurray’s irrigate treatment plant is using more food-grade chemicals to separate blazed forest-floor ash that’s flushing into the municipality’s drinking water kit out. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The Fort McMurray wildfire is one of the costliest insured reverses in Canada’s history, at approximately $3.6 billion. The fire that’s undisturbed smoldering covered 589,552 hectares and devoured over 2,400 houses.

From Day 1, scientists Monica Emelko of the University of Waterloo and Uldis Silins from the University of Alberta possess worked with the province and the municipality to monitor the wildfire’s impact on the Athabasca River.

Both researchers are co-principal investigators in the Southern Rockies Watershed Estimate, which monitors water quality from its source all the way to the tap.

One problem researchers are already spot is more dissolved organic carbon from the Athabasca River intake. Carbon retorts with the chlorine and produces byproducts in the water that can be harmful to humans.

“Some of these byproducts are probable carcinogens and some of them are carcinogens,” Emelko said.

Researchers are stimulating for the possible growth of algae in the plant’s untreated water storage ponds. Developed phosphorous and carbon in the water from wildfire debris could conceive harmful blue-green blooms.

“Some algae produce toxins,” Emelko pronounced, “They include neurotoxins that affect your nervous plan. They can be liver toxins.”

Pic 4 Fort McMurray Water treatment plant

Researchers Uldis Silins and Monica Emelko are co-principal investigators in the Southern Rockies Watershed Estimate, which monitors water quality from its source to the tap.

“So when it’s there we take to shut down and that could be problematic,” Emelko said.

Most saturate utilities in Canada and the United States can’t adequately remove the toxins. In 2014 a eleemosynary toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie meant more than 400,000 residents in Toledo, Ohio couldn’t safely swallow their tap water. 

Because of these risks, the Fort McMurray extravagantly treatment plant has spent more money adding food-grade chemicals to degrade the amount of carbon in the water.

Kendel also anticipates the two storage ponds purposefulness need to be dredged to counteract the growth of algae in the spring.

“We’ll be cleaning out those reservoirs, rub any residual from the wildfire that may have impacted them,” he articulate.

Researchers are unclear how long wildfire debris will persist in the river.

Costs could would rather been higher

The water treatment costs could be even sharp, researchers said, if it wasn’t for proactive work done by he research community and townsperson and provincial governments to ensure the wildfire didn’t compromise Fort McMurray’s be indefensible plant and the drinking supply.

The plant survived the fire. Planning and providence guaranteed the city’s water supply remained safe to drink and residents could payment.

“It would have been so much more if the water hadn’t at to flow from this plant that we are still standing in,” Emelko estimated. “It’s something I don’t want to think about.”

In the days immediately following the wildfire and evacuation, the dominion asked Emelko and Silins to drop everything and focus on how to make Fort McMurray’s spray safe.

Pic 3 Fort McMurray Water Treatment Plant

The Fort McMurray water treatment plant has enough competency to supply 104 million litres of drinking water each day. That’s sufficient to supply a municipality twice Fort McMurray’s size. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Emelko swayed a Mother’s Day getaway with her two girls turned into a work fair. She helped emergency wildfire operations gauge if Fort McMurray’s water treatment instil could handle sudden changes to water quality caused by the wildfire.

Silins traded in summer area work for seven-day work weeks assessing water contaminants and mapping sundry than 250 wildfire-affected watersheds that flow into the river.

“The biggest business was identifying the ones closer to the water treatment plant,” he said.

What effect have helped the most was that an upgrade for the plant had been commissioned already the wildfire. New treatment equipment and capacity allowed it to quickly filter out ash and debris the wildfire sent down river.

Warnings for the rest of Canada

How Fort McMurray faces the challenge of treating carouse water — and the spike in costs — is being watched by the rest of Canada, the researchers imparted.

Climate change, Silins said, has affected the frequency and behaviour of wildfires in Alberta and round the country.

“Shifting climates and changing wildfire behaviours is something that has the notoriety of resource managers worldwide,” he said.

Their research and lessons accomplished from Fort McMurray will better inform management of watersheds and treatment plants in wildfire reclining areas around the country.

“Utilities across Canada are collectively tiresome to get together to get support from the federal government to talk about what are the similarities and what are the changes and what can we learn from each other,” Emelko said, “because these disorganizations are exceptionally difficult and expensive to respond to.”

Follow David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray stringer, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.

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