Removal of nitrogen in Regina’s wastewater system is improving water quality, U of R study finds

Ten years ago, University of Regina researchers embarked on a study examining the effects of the cities wastewater treatment facility.

It later received a $175-million upgrade, aimed at largely eliminating pollution with ammonia and reducing the levels of total dissolved nitrogen by 85 per cent.

The study found that the removal of nitrogen from the city’s wastewater discharge system greatly improved water quality in one of Canada’s most polluted streams, Wascana Creek.

Read more: Low oxygen levels killing fish in Wascana Creek

Peter Leavitt, Canada Research Chair for Environmental Changes and Society, says Wascana is too small to be able to handle the city’s waste.

“City’s act like big magnets, they attract things from all over the planet, concentrated in an area. Then we use the stuff, process our waste, and dump them into the environment.” Leavitt adds that there isn’t a lot of flowing water in the southern parts of Saskatchewan, to help dilute the pollution.

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The lack of flowing water puts lots of constraints on industry and social development with the city. Leavitt says most federal law is based around the concentration of whatever is in the wastewater, assuming that it’s going to be diluted down.

“In Wascana Creek, there is almost no water running in the creek through much of the summer and fall and all of the winter,” says Leavitt. “During the summer and into the winter the only thing flowing in Wascana creek is wastewater.”

Click to play video: 'Regina MLA helps pull woman, cat from Wascana Creek' Regina MLA helps pull woman, cat from Wascana Creek

Regina MLA helps pull woman, cat from Wascana Creek – May 31, 2021

Environment Canada recently conducted a study out of Saskatoon on the creek, analyzing the raw data of what pollutants could be drawn back from human waste. They quickly discovered that nitrogen levels were off the charts, along with high volumes of personal care products, drugs, algae, etc.

Read more: Waste water, a problem which could pile up

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Leavitt says the removal of nitrogen is a positive step in the right direction.

“We expect water quality to start to improve first in Pasqua Lake, then move east through the downstream ecosystems,” says Leavitt. “So long as planned industrial activities such as wheat straw pulp mills, canola seed crushing plants, farm fertilization and other activities don’t undo the good work.”

Full recovery of affected lakes will likely take decades.

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