Freeze the sewage

Freeze the sewage the latest in the sewage treatment technology for the colder climates has ultimately hit the market after years of research and much to the chagrin of its detractors has proved to be effective. Snowfluent, a revolutionary no discharge technology developed by two Canadian engineers gave small town politicians a big lesson in resistance to change and transformed a hard-nosed engineer into a born-again environmentalist.

The Snowfluent system destroys bacteria and other hazardous elements present in raw sewage, by blowing the waste into cold winter air from special nozzles mounted on high towers. The crystallising droplets squeeze out gases, the bacteria is killed by rapid freezing and the end product is white snow, explains Jeff White, the co-inventor of the technology. He added that the process treats sewage to the highest possible level, which even the wealthiest municipalities cannot afford in traditional systems. When the snow piles melt in spring, the run-off water is free of phosphates found in other treatment systems.

"The idea of storing effluent during the summer (in a lagoon) and freezing it in winter is a new way of doing business. It is an innovative approach and we are pleased to see it is working as well as it is,' said Brian Ward, an official at the environment ministry.

White had exceptional credentials to back him in this project. White began making snow for Ottawa's Camp Fortune Ski area almost 40 years ago. His company, Delta Engineering, made the white stuff for Winter Olympics in 1988 which was held at Calgary. He has built more than 300 snowmaking systems around the world from Colorado to Maine in the us to Argentina, Australia and Korea.

Now, at the age of 61, White has prostrate cancer and a mission to prove to professionals and government officials that sewage should not be, does not have to be, discharged into lakes, rivers and oceans. "People still think the solution to pollution is dilution. This is nonsense. We are polluting our waterways using outdated standards,' fumes White.

From years of installing snowmaking systems, White knew the ski industry had serious problems with sewage because biological systems do not work well in cold weather. While he was trying to develop a technology to answer this need, he met his future collaborator environment ministry official and a water evaluator, Doug Huber. After two years of testing, Huber's lab summarised the results in a report. He found that the freezing process could kill off bacteria instantaneously, with 99 per cent removal rate. "When we tested the melt water, bacteria was non-detectable. The effluent from Snowfluent is cleaner than any other treatment I am aware of,' says Huber. A study by the state government of Maine confirmed Huber's report that Snowfluent runoff was "five to 25 times cleaner than discharges even from the most sophisticated sewage treatment facilities'.

He approached dozens of Canadian cities in need of new sewage treatment plants but met with blind opposition. Most dismissed the technology as "unworkable'. Then came Westport, situated on the idyllic shores of Upper Rideau Lake and with a population of 700. Because it was a swamp, the area was especially vulnerable to pollution. The area needed a new sewage treatment facility after the existing one reached capacity in 1989 and had to be expanded. The village council had five alternatives on hand. However, all these available technologies would end up dumping sewage into the neighbouring lakes, something that the council did not want. Meanwhile, White had got in touch with the council and the latter decided to vote for the Snowfluent system. But, the local office of the ministry of environment was not enthusiastic. Then much to amazement of the residents of the area, the village council turned into environmental warriors. After much persuasion, the contract was given to Delta Engineering. The entire project cost us $3.6 million which includes a new lagoon. The company runs the sewage system-as well as the potable water system. The entire system is computerised.

Back at Delta's Ottawa headquarters, the awards for the Snowfluent are displayed. White, however, is not too happy for another reason because certain states in Canada have totally overlooked this environment-friendly system while deciding on the sewage treatment systems. Recently, one of the states even spent us $27 million on a new sewage treatment plant, that ended up pumping sewage in the river. "Victoria is dumping raw sewage into the Pacific and the Whales are dying. We are destroying the in-shore fishes. Look at Lunenburg and Halifax. Those harbours are totally polluted. There is no need for it. We know how to have zero discharge,' he says.

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