Virden sewage has been spilling into an Assiniboine River tributary since the spring of 2012, highlighting a dire need for federal cash to flow into the rapidly-growing oil town.
Assiniboine River effluent levels are “negligible,” said Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell, based on periodic tests conducted by the province, but the levels are higher in the water near the town.
And how quickly Virden can get a new plant depends on the speed at which the federal government dolls out its recently announced infrastructure fund, which will be launched at the end of March.
“The province and the feds are understanding our situation,” McConnell said. “We’ve made it very clear the dollars can’t be short-changed to us. Our town cannot pick up more than one-third of the cost.
“If we can’t do it on our own and they aren’t providing us funds, it won’t happen.”
In the meantime, the town has proposed Virden residents pay a per-metre user fee to subsidize some of the cost of the project’s first phase.
In anticipation that the plant was reaching the end of its life, the town began the application process in 2007 to receive government funding for a new facility. However, the slow-moving process wasn’t fast enough to be completed before the plant went out of commission.
The decrepit deep-shaft sewage plant failed in 2012 and sewage has been running into the nearby Gopher Creek with minimal treatment — a waterway that leads to the Assiniboine River. Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship was told of the situation and the town and the province have been co-operating since then, according to McConnell.
“It’s been public knowledge,” he said. “We’ve had meetings and have gone door-to-door downstream between the effluent runoff and the Assiniboine River.”
The mayor said excess treatment, such as chlorine, could be more harmful to the water than the sewage and officials have said the town has spent “as much money as would makes sense to spend” on treatment.
“Where we need to focus is on replacement and fixing the problem permanently.”
Until Virden can confirm it’s going to upgrade the plant, no new subdivisions can be approved by Conservation and Water Stewardship — an issue for a growing town.
Meanwhile, other rural towns are also thirsty for federal infrastructure dollars to flow their way for wastewater issues.
In the growing town of Melita, for example, plans are already in place to double the capacity of lagoons.
The $4-million project also includes building up nearby dikes, since the near-capacity lagoons overflow if flooding occurs sending sewage into the Souris River.
Melita Mayor Bob Walker said he doesn’t think his town’s project will be trumped by Virden’s.
“We’re going to get something out of it, I know,” he said. “We’re ready to go ahead with it, we’re just not sure how much funding we’re going to get.”
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire said an upcoming forum with municipal leaders will be held next month and he acknowledged many areas within the federal riding that are in need of infrastructure cash.
“We’ve got a number of major projects in the area that I think need to be looked at,” Maguire said. “Infrastructure in the area is huge.”
It won’t be until the end of March when the Building Canada Fund will be launched and applications for funding will start pouring in.