City engineers still cling to old
wastewater management thinking

...big pipes to centralized treatment and "dilution as the solution to pollution"

(View Up-Dates at bottom of this page...)

RCOC Report - April, 2008

Calgary and Edmonton both treat their wastewater to tertiary level. That means it is treated to a level that allows swimming to take place.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) allows Ottawa's centralized sewage treatment plant, the Robert O. Pickard Environment Centre, (ROPEC), formerly known as the Greens Creek Sewage Treatment Plant, to process sewage only to the level of secondary treatment, (shown in aerial photo, at right).

What makes matters even worse, is that ROPEC receives tanker truck loads of toxic leachate from the Trail Road landfill site and from outside cities such as Belleville. The city also pipes leachate into ROPEC from the Carp Road dump.

Transporting toxic leachate by pipeline is technically "illegal" because the toxic excedences do not conform to the city's Sewer Use By-Law.


-Photo by Dan Brunton  

Upstream view of ROPEC's secondary treatment sewage discharge plume into the Ottawa River.

However, the MOE is quite obliging in that regard. It simply allows the city to pay the MOE an ongoing fine, to remain "legally non-compliant". (Or is that "illegally compliant"?)

Landfill leachate is a rather pernicious substance to send to a secondary treatment plant, designed for sewage, because the plant is not equipped to treat the leachate. Other than to achieve removal of a few of the particulates, most of the toxic chemicals in the leachate pass right through the ROPEC facility to be dumped, UNTREATED, into the Ottawa River.

Everyone lives downstream...

Last year's exercise regarding the DNA typing of E. coli samples showing up on the Petrie Island waterfront seemed rather inane. There was already little doubt in most minds, before any testing, that the E. coli was of human origin: i.e.: from ROPEC.

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. David Salisbury is doing the right thing, by demanding that the worsening problem of Ottawa River pollution be properly addressed. (See The Ottawa Citizen article: City to study cost of cutting Ottawa River pollution.)

Correcting Ottawa's dirty pollution practices can only mean one thing. It means that Ottawa --which isn't even heavily industrialized-- has to get up to speed with cities like Calgary and Edmonton, and conduct tertiary treatment of its sewage.

At the Rural Summit II meeting (April 5th, 2008), a director of the Rural Council of Ottawa-Carleton asked the Ottawa Director of Water and Wastewater Services, Dixon Weir, P.Eng., why Ottawa is so far behind cities like Calgary and Edmonton. Mr. Weir said that Calgary, for example, is forced to produce tertiary quality wastewater effluent, "because its receiver, the Bow River, is too small to allow secondary-treated effluent to be put into it". He added that, "the Ottawa River is a large enough receiver that the MOE 'allows' the city to discharge secondary-treated wastewater into it".

It is no small wonder that, year-after-year, Ottawa holds the unenviable reputation of being the second or third worst polluter of waterways, in Ontario!

Hopefully, the public shift of consciousness toward 'good environmental stewardship' will soon preclude the city's lazy, sub-standard and unethical practice of using "dilution as the solution to pollution".

Since "everyone lives downstream", it is downright un-neighbourly for Ottawa to dump raw-to-partially-treated sewage into the source water of downstream communities. Many 'third world' countries are developing better water stewardship and hygiene than this!

Given the additional fact that the advanced sewage treatment and conveyance technologies available today are often less costly to build and to operate than the antiquated methods currently in vogue with so many city engineers and their 'independent' consultants, it seems high time for the MOE to regulate that all WW treatment processes, in the province, produce tertiary quality effluent. Period. 


World Bank report:

Sanitation and disease: health aspects of
excreta and waste management.

“Those whose job is to select and design appropriate systems for the collection and treatment of sewage … must bear in mind that European and North American practices do not represent the zenith of scientific achievement, nor are they the product of a logical and rational process. Rather, [they] are the product of history, a history that started about 100 years ago when a little was known about the fundamental physics and chemistry of the subject and when practically no applicable microbiology had been discovered… These practices are not especially clever, nor logical, nor completely effective – and it is not necessarily what would be done today if these same countries had a chance to start again.”



City plans to magnify ROPEC's sewage-dysfunction: centrally.

The City of Kingston is considerably smaller than Ottawa, yet it has three wastewater treatment plants and it would like more, the logic being, to treat sewage as locally as possible. Ottawa tries to treat all of its sewage centrally. That worked to a point, when sewage was only brought in from communities within the Greenbelt.

Ottawa is markedly different from all other cities in that it's broad arc of undeveloped land around the urban core, the Greenbelt, imposes a wide separation between the water and wastewater services for the city-core, WITHIN the Greenbelt, and services for all of the rapidly growing suburban communities and scattered rural villages OUTSIDE the Greenbelt.

As rural-village communities further outside the Greenbelt become more polluted, with their high-density well and septic systems, the city should be forward-thinking enough to adopt modern local (communal) water and wastewater support to replace the outmoded systems and to accommodate growth. Villages such as Metcalfe, Osgoode, North Gower, Manotick Kars and others should all have updated communal systems, or be moving in that direction.

Munster is an extreme demonstration of Ottawa-engineering foolhardiness. Munster, as a separate community, was already receiving communal water and wastewater servicing, but needed a wastewater service upgrade, in the form of a new communal treatment plant. That was available at a fixed price bid of $3.8-Million. Instead of implementing the obvious on-site upgrade, city engineers installed a forcemain that presently directs raw sewage --under pressure-- through the shallow source drinking water of another community (Richmond), creating an unnecessary, built-in, contamination risk to 1100 private shallow wells and placing 5,000 residents in constant harm's way. They have produced a virtual 'ticking time bomb' waiting to explode. Eventual cost? Over $30-Million!

Please explain the logic of that one, Mr. Weir!


If the city gets its way, engineering folly and history will soon be repeated in the Village of Manotick. A communal wastewater treatment system with small bore piping could immediately handle all of the present requirements of Hillside Gardens, Main Street commercial and other institutional needs, without invasive trench digging, and without the sort of trauma to local businesses caused by a 'Bank Street-style upheaval' for installation of the big pipe.

Also, the fully scalable and expandable features of a communal system would very adequately enable it to manage all of the future expansion plans of Minto and other builders in a phased, orderly and cost-effective build-out fashion.

Conversely, the 'big pipe' option requires immediate and full build-out to take place, if it is to avoid the type of failure experienced by the $38-Million, turned $55-Million, debacle known as the South Ottawa Collector. (Ref: fiascos_and_boondoggles)

Ottawa Citizen, columnist, Randall Denley, has more information on problems with the use of old pipeline technology, and its higher cost, in his April 5th, 2008 column: 27M down the drain...

A long-time Manotick resident's "Letter to the Editor", (The Ottawa Citizen - April 13th, 2008), expresses the common sense view of a great many of the residents:
Manotick 'Big pipe' a foolish venture

How bloated can the white elephant become ...before it explodes?

The concept of having a single centralized failure-prone monstrosity for a sewage treatment plant is really quite primitive. The hydro blackout on August 14, 2003 caused four straight days of full City of Ottawa raw sewage discharge into the Ottawa River, followed by at least another three weeks of raw-with-partially-treated sewage being discharged while the ROPEC facility gradually worked its way back on line. All of the outlying communities that should be served with communal systems, in the future, could easily switch over to small generator back-up power, in such cases, and would carry on without event --while ROPEC will continue to have its 'meltdowns'.

City engineers have repeatedly tried to discredit advanced or innovative wastewater treatment technologies that are working well in this province and around the world. (See: Pilloried by city) The most commonly used slur, is that these technologies are "experimental" and therefore cannot be relied upon.

Interestingly, a 1975 Report to the US Congress pointed to significant performance and cost advantages of the Rotating Biological Contactor (RBC) technology over the Activated Sludge system. It is worth noting that RBC technology is an integral part of the process used at Manotick's Village Walk, while the less-efficient Activated Sludge process is the treatment method used at Ottawa's ROPEC, (Ref:

While advanced technologies, around the globe, are reliably and efficiently producing tertiary quality effluent, at a reduced cost, the largest and most reckless 'EXPERIMENT' of all ROPEC, itself.

The City of Ottawa is concentrating all of it wastewater treatment into a single dysfunctional facility --without back-up safety-- and is producing lower-quality effluent with each costly addition. THAT'S EXPERIMENTAL!

The city is currently seeking $60-Million in funding for a containment/digester tank to theoretically reduce the current volumes of raw sewage bypasses into the Ottawa River during periods of heavy rainfall. The expansion is additionally intended to be a dumping area for toxic waste material, (hydrated aluminum oxide slurries with entrained metallic and inorganic forms), from the Britannia and Lemieux Island water filtration plants. Over six months ago, the MOE ordered the city to cease dumping this toxic waste directly into the Ottawa River because it was causing a broadening fish-kill zone, downstream.

The city has been constantly out of compliance all of this time, and will continue to be so well into the future. The $60-Million plant is designed to turn the slurry portion of the toxic material into "bio-solids" -- for farm-field application. The remaining liquid phase will simply pass through ROPEC, untreated, to be re-introduced into the Ottawa River.

Is there not something fundamentally dishonest with the strategy of keeping a portion of that specific toxin out of the Ottawa River putting it into our food chain, then returning the remainder to the Ottawa River, and pretending it isn't there?

The Regional Official Plan used to contain good environmental concepts, i.e.: of treating waste close to where it is created, avoiding watershed transfers of ground water, encouraging the use modern and innovative technologies and promoting communal water and wastewater treatment systems for outlying communities.

Most of that wisdom has been removed from the city's latest, dumbed-down, Official Plan.

The city is tied to archaic wastewater management models of a different era.

Unfortunately, we will continue to experience serious degradation in the quality of our waterways, the health of our environment and the quality of life of Ottawa citizens, as long as our city engineers continue with failing to implement the modern technological wastewater management advances of their profession.


Feb 04 - 2010   Munster sewer-gas stink in Richmond lands city four more charges