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Infrastructure improvements key to SaskWater's plans moving forward


December 13, 2015  


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Earlier this year, RBC’s eighth annual Canadian Water Attitudes Study revealed that water quality is second only to hospitals in terms of what Canadians want their taxes to fund — ahead of roads, schools and public transit.

As expected, concerns for protecting the water supply has also led to high ratings for municipal drinking water quality, with 73 per cent of Canadians polled in RBC study expressing confidence in their local tap water.

“Safety, infrastructure, reliability and conservation top the list,” Eric Light, vice-president of operations and engineering at Sask- Water says of people’s expectations from a water utility. “Safe, reliable and sustainable water supplies are critical to the vitality of our communities and our economy.”

The Crown corporation should know. In 2014, it delivered 6.8 billion litres of drinking water. In fact, SaskWater’s history dates back to 1966 as the Saskatchewan Water Supply Board. It later became the Saskatchewan Water Corporation and, in 2002, as a commercial water utility.

Today, SaskWater currently serves more than 72,000 people in 63 communities and eight rural municipalities, as well as a variety of industries, including 83 rural pipeline groups, 16 industrial and 236 commercial and end user customers. While people expect safe and reliable drinking water, it’s not always that simple. The key is quality infrastructure, notes Light.

In SaskWater’s case, it owns and operates the Wakaw-Humboldt and Melfort regional potable water systems. These systems consist of a single treatment plant that produces and distributes potable water to surrounding communities through a pipeline network. Water treatment plants for these two regional systems are located in Wakaw and Melfort.

Together these systems supply potable water to 17 communities and several rural pipeline groups. SaskWater also owns and operates two regional potable water systems where the water is purchased from other suppliers. The corporation purchases potable water from the City of Saskatoon and delivers it to surrounding communities, industries, other commercial businesses, and pipeline groups through an extensive pipeline network.

SaskWater also purchases potable water from the Buffalo Pound Water Administration Board, City of Regina and City of Moose Jaw, sourced from the Buffalo Pound Treatment Plant, and delivers it to surrounding communities and industries. “The majority of SaskWater’s municipal customers own and operate their local distribution systems and manage the relationship with their residents,” says Light. “SaskWater provides wholesale water delivery service to the community which then delivers the service to its residents.”

Demand for potable water has remained relatively stable in 2015, increasing by nearly four per cent to more than 3.5 million cubic metres. Potable water is primarily supplied to municipal customers. “To accommodate growth around the two large centres of Regina and Saskatoon, Sask- Water is nearing completion of a multi-year expansion of the water supply system for White City which includes twinning part of the pipeline from source wells to the water treatment plant, expanding the footprint of the plant to add more filters and treatment equipment and expanding the potable water reservoir,” says Light.

In Martensville, meanwhile, SaskWater built a new connection, giving the city a third point of delivery. The corporation also replaced seven kilometres of pipeline on the Saskatoon Potable East pipeline as a major refurbishment initiative. A major capital project is asset refurbishment on the Saskatoon South East Water Supply system. The system canal was constructed in the 1960s and is used to convey water to three potash mines: PCS Allan, Mosaic Colonsay and PCS Lanigan. It also serves several communities, including Broderick, Viscount, Guernsey and Lanigan.

Many of the bridges, culverts and other structures along the route of the canal are almost 50 years old and are in need of repairs. SaskWater hired a consultant who completed a condition assessment study in January 2012, followed by a $8.5-million multi-year program to replace or repair these structures. Two structures were replaced in 2013, followed by an additional five structures that began this year. This includes bridge replacements and structures along the canal.

“Beyond 2015, we are working with several customers to develop new or expanded facilities to meet their needs,” says Light. “We are optimistic that decisions to proceed will happen over the next few months. These projects are largely regional in scope which increases their efficiency.”

Non-potable demand
In 2015, SaskWater was had to respond to increased demand for non-potable water, which is primarily distributed to large industrial customers, especially in the potash mining sector. The utility distributed more than 18 million cubic metres of non-potable water within the province during the first six months of the year, an increase of more than 20 per cent compared to last year. In 2014, SaskWater delivered 30 billion litres of non-potable water.

SaskWater owns and operates non-potable water systems in the areas surrounding Saskatoon, Buffalo Pound Lake and along the Saskatoon Southeast Water Supply system. Light notes the change in volumes this year is largely related to market conditions within the potash sector.

In addition, Sask- Water began providing significant nonpotable water volumes to the K+S Potash Canada Legacy mine in 2015. SaskWater is also currently completing construction of a water supply system that will serve the BHP Billiton Jansen potash mine. This includes 93 kilometres of pipeline, an intake, pump station, booster station and an expanded and upgraded canal to accommodate larger flows.

“SaskWater’s non-potable water delivery to the potash industry has grown from approximately 20 million cubic meters of water to 30 million cubic meters in recent years,” says Light. “Although there have been fluctuations in the potash industry over the past several years, the five potash mines we have served going back to the 1960s have collectively trended upward with water usage as global demand has increased and each mine has expanded. Additionally, we began supplying Mosaic Potash in 2011 and K+S Potash Canada this year.”

In October 2014, Vale Potash Canada Inc. agreed to increase the scope of work for SaskWater to include completing the detailed design and land control for the water supply system for their proposed potash mine at Kronau. SaskWater also submitted the Environmental Impact Assessment for this project to the Ministry of Environment in 2014 and is awaiting the results. Earlier this year, news reports surfaced indicating Vale was considering selling its potash assets in Saskatchewan.

Wastewater
In addition to its water-treatment infrastructure, SaskWater has three wastewater facilities, 39 pump stations, 140 kilometres of canal and 865 kilometres of pipeline. The corporation also maintains customerowned systems and provides operator training to 29 First Nations communities. SaskWater owns and operates wastewater facilities in Nipawin, Pierceland and Fort Qu’Appelle. The Pierceland facility is a standalone system. The Nipawin and Fort Qu’Appelle facilities are regional wastewater systems serving multiple customers either through force mains or dump stations for commercial truck haulers.

In 2014, SaskWater received and treated 1.1 billion litres of wastewater. SaskWater’s wastewater infrastructure ranges from simple lagoon-based treatment to complex mechanical and/or chemically aided treatment systems. The corporation is actively researching new methods to dispose of treated effluent, notes Light. “One method that SaskWater has invested in is the idea of an effluent irrigated woodlot,” he says. “This provides a way for qualified effluent to be disposed of ‘on-land’ as opposed to the traditional method, which is discharging to surface water bodies. “The traditional method is completely safe, but it comes at a premium price.

Part of our investigation is to determine if the woodlot method is affordable to a broader range of communities and under what conditions and where in the province it might be best suited. SaskWater has also proposed a biological nutrient removal (BNR) wastewater treatment process to a couple of communities. Light notes these communities require a robust treatment regime which is directly related to volume.

“The benefits of the BNR wastewater treatment process include that they can operate in areas of extreme cold temperatures, there can be significant capital savings during construction and they produce highquality treated wastewater,” says White.

Moving forward
Light notes safety, infrastructure, reliability and conservation top the list of today’s urban water needs. “SaskWater works with its partners and customers to ensure water quality is monitored and maintained,” he says. “We invest in building and refurbishing infrastructure, and we are proponents of water supply and wastewater systems that are the most efficient for the customer and for the corporation.”

In fact, from 2011 to 2014, SaskWater invested more than $29 million in asset refurbishment and growth, in addition to funds received from customers to support projects.

When it comes to safety, SaskWater uses a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system via TransGas (a subsidiary of SaskEnergy) to remotely monitor 52 facilities across the province. SaskWater also provides leak-detection services using noise correlator technology to detect subsurface water leaks and conduct leak audits on distribution systems.

As for quality, SaskWater bases its index based on four factors: turbidity, trihalomethanes (THM), chlorine and bacteriological analysis. Each individual factor is given a score out of 1.

In 2014, SaskWater scored a 0.999 or 0.998 for all categories except for THM, where is scored 0.846. The corporation attributed its minor challenges with the THM results to the transmission systems where SaskWater does not have control over the treatment process. However, it notes that overall, it achieved the target for this measure.

Moving forward, Light notes the challenges SaskWater will face as it relates to delivering reliable and professional water and wastewater services will centre around rural areas of the province. “There are two significant obstacles we often see with rural locations,” he says. “First, whether municipal or industrial, customers and potential customers are being very careful before committing to capital spending. They want to have business plans in place and financing secured, often from multiple levels of government, before they proceed with a project. “The second obstacle is often the availability of certified operators to run facilities.

This can be especially problematic in small towns and villages where they have to be certified but it is not full time work. Attracting and retaining staff in those cases can be a big challenge.” Light adds SaskWater can help alleviate that challenge if it can develop regional systems that effectively enable sharing the operator. The corporation may be better able to attract and retain operators because it has several staff that can support each other and provide technical assistance and other relief.

About the author: Jamie Zachary is the editor of PROCESSWest.