Regina Water War - Referendum 2013Greg posed a question a few posts back about the deal the city struck with Western Potash to use our grey water for some kind of extraction mining process. He was wondering what happens to the revenue that should come from that deal if we go ahead with a P3. Will the Sewage Consortium get that cash? It’s a good question. And related to that, by selling our water to Western Potash, will the specifications of the sewage treatment plant have to change and thereby put us in a position to run up extra costs with the Sewage Consortium?

I spoke with deputy city manager Brent Sjoberg a while back and he says that everything should be fine. The interview is after the jump…

Prairie Dog: We entered into an agreement with Western Potash to sell our grey water [treated sewage] for them to use in mining. Also, two years ago, after the first National Infrastructure Summit, Councillor O’Donnell asked administration to prepare a report about innovative ways we could be using our grey water for things like heating and energy generation. [That report is still outstanding.] It looks like grey water is a kind of asset. Who owns that?

Brent Sjoberg: It’s really the service of water that we provide. We don’t own water. The Crown always owns water.

PD: Sure. But who captures the revenue from it?

BS: The city still. You need to think about that contract, the Western Potash, is completely independent of anything related to the upgrade to the plant. So at this point we don’t know whether or not Western Potash is going to go ahead with their mine. if they do, they have to option to pay for those services upfront or over the course of time. And that’s their option. So we’ll know what the revenue looks like based on them going ahead with the mine and then deciding how they’re going to make a payment to the city for the service. From there, city council determines what to do with the revenue. It’s not preallocated to anything.

PD: Will this change the specifications of how the wastewater treatment plant is built and managed?

BS: No because they’re taking the output of the plant is what that contract allocates.

PD: Would it limit us if we want to use our grey water for heating or what have your in the future? Would it change the specifications on the plant?

BS: No. I think they’re two totally separate things. The plant upgrades are really based on the environmental requirements to remove additional chemicals out of the effluent and so nitrogen, phosphorous and so on. So it’s an additional treatment process, but yeah, no, it shouldn’t. The only thing that will affect the quantity of water is how much goes into the system is basically what’s going to come out. So population growth and use of sewage system will determine what’s coming out at the other end.

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Couple notes… This is part of an interview we did just before the last issue went to press. I had to fact check a couple things so I’d phoned up city hall begging for a quick interview with Sjoberg — and I needed to get it done in like three hours if I was going to get my article in anywhere near on time. (It was waaaaaay late anyway.)

So when Sjoberg called, I only had a very short time to talk to him and I totally piggy backed these questions onto the call even though the fact I was checking was about something else.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, I was totally imposing on him and tried to keep things very short and as a result I didn’t press on this issue of the grey water as much as I may have otherwise.

Because the thing is, I’m not 100% certain that the P3 won’t be a problem if we decide to use our grey water for something other than flushing it into the creek.

Granted, if we’re just going to sell it for extraction mining, well then, it looks like we can go ahead no troubles. It won’t change the terms of the P3 at all and the revenue will come to the city not the Sewage Consortium.

But I was more interested in how we might possibly use our grey water in future. There are many communities — the Olympic Village in Vancouver is a prime example — who are using their sewage for heating and to create energy. How that’s done and how feasible it is is what staff is supposed to be investigating in that report Councillor O’Donnell asked them to prepare.

And as far as I know, that request is two years old and there’s been no report.

I’m not an expert on the various uses of grey water but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that using it for purposes other than flushing didn’t require some change or addition to the sewage plant — I mean, if we want to do this on a grand, citywide scale and not just in a small community.

And once you’ve entered into a 30-year P3 agreement, making changes to your facility becomes difficult. They can potentially charge you a lot of money because you’re renegotiating the deal. And — in part because of those costs but also because of the fact that a consortium controls the plant and not you — you can be restricted in the kinds of changes you can even contemplate.

It’s a 30 year deal. That’s a long, long time. And I’d hate to think that by entering the P3 we’re tying our hands and preventing our city from taking full advantage of future tech related to extracting the energy that’s in our poop.

But, Sjoberg didn’t indicate it’ d be a problem. And I’m not an expert. So maybe this is all an unwarranted concern. Ultimately, I just don’t know. I need to do more interviews.