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Metro water filtration plant using less chemicals

Municipal, federal and provincial politicians officially opened the new Seymour-Capilano water filtration plant this morning with a tap water toast and many rounds of thanks and congratulations.

It's been a long time coming (Metro Vancouver council approved plans to develop the plant in 2002) and fraught with the logistical challenges of building twin tunnels that will carry water to and from the Capilano reservoir, 11 kilometers and two glacial valleys away. In fact, that part of the project will not be complete until 2013 -- until, the plant is just filtering water from the Seymour reservoir.

The plant officially came online late last year. Designed to treat 1.8 billion litres of water per day, it's the largest water filtration plant in Canada and the largest in the world to use ultra violet (UV) light to disinfect water.

"When we first started UV was still in the experimental stage, and so the first reaction was to just rely on chlorine," said Vancouver councilor Tim Stevenson. "But chlorine has downstream environmental affects."

Sharon Peters, plant superintendent, said UV treatment removes organic material from the water, so chlorine won't degrade as much when it moves through the system. Typically, they have to inject chlorine at various points in the system to maintain levels. "We'll be able to use less chemical to produce the same results," said Peters. "Also, our practice has been that when there's turbidity in the water we boost the amount of chlorine that we use. And with this plant we won't have to do that anymore."

The project is entirely funded by the public. Metro Vancouver budgeted $820 million for the entire Capilano-Seymour project, $328 million of which was for the filtration plant itself. The federal government and province invested $100 million. Another $18 million was provided through a local government grant program.

Though Metro Vancouver can now boast about having some of the best drinking water in the world, there's still the problem of dealing with what comes out the other end -- liquid waste. The regional district will have to spend about $2 billion upgrading its Iona and Lions Gate sewage treatment plants to meet new federal regulations, according to a recent Globe and Mail article.

"We have got a plan to address those issues," said Metro's Commissioner Johnny Carline. "We've got a liquid waste management plan in draft that deals with both. . . We want to do Lions Gate plant by 2020 for sure and Iona as soon after that as we can, but that will depend on getting the appropriate federal funding because it's very expensive."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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