By Bill Atwood
Some Osoyoos residents are continuing to experience a powerful sewer-like smell coming from the town’s wastewater treatment facility.
“Nobody’s happy because we can’t sit out in our yards at night because it stinks. It smells like an outhouse,” said resident Cathy Martins.
Another resident Katharina Riedener-Brunner agreed and said that it affects quality of life.
“Not being able to sleep with your window open affects quality of sleep. Not being able to enjoy your deck or your patio. We work all day and then you come home in the evening and you want to be outside,” she said.
“People that live up here say it’s Osoyoos’ best kept secret. Nobody is going to tell you when they’re selling a property that it stinks at night and that you can’t sit out on your deck. That is not what a realtor will ever tell you. Neither will the mayor or the council,” said Martins.
Martins explained that this has been an issue for many years, but has gotten worse in the last couple of years, especially during the summer months.
“In the summer it’s a hundred times worse because our population goes from 5100 to 30,000. We can’t do anything about it because we live in a destination community. That’s what we’ve been told. And we just have to deal with it,” Martins said.
A statement from town’s operational services dated July 31 confirms the influx of visitors is at least part of the problem.
“The wastewater treatment system receives inflows in the summer that are far greater than the amount usually received during non-peak months. The treatment system is designed to receive these additional flows, but the treatment process needs to adjust and this takes time,” the statement said.
Jared Brounstein, director of operations who is examining the issue, explained that although this is a challenge it is not a capacity issue.
“We have no capacity issues in regards to wastewater treatment or wastewater flows. What we’re looking at and trying to analyze is whether or not we have a treatment process issue, and whether or not we are either aerating enough or making sure that we’re detaining water flows long enough in order to treat the effluent properly,” he said.
Martins said the smell has also been hard for her 6-year-old daughter.
“We built her a swing set, but she goes on five or 10 minutes. And then she can’t because she says it stinks. So kids can’t play in their yards because wastewater treatment isn’t working properly.”
The issue has led several residents, including Riedener-Brunner to contact the town office.
“I’ve written to the town a couple of times, even last year and you know, the answers I’ve been getting is ‘Oh, we’re working on it or we’ll do everything to solve the problem, blah, blah, blah’. And then nothing ever happens. I’ve never gotten any answers as to what’s being done and who would be responsible for the plan of action,” Riedener-Brunner said.
These answers make her question whether the town is taking the issue seriously enough; something that Brounstein ensures they are doing.
After being unsatisfied with the answer she received from the town, Riedener-Brunner emailed Interior Health, who forwarded her concerns to the Ministry of Environment. However, when the ministry was contacted for comment the Times-Chronicle was told that during the election “all government of B.C. communications are limited to immediate health and public safety information, as well as statutory requirements.”
The town is currently conducting a review of the system. This includes mapping out where the complaints from residents are coming from in order to better understand exactly where the issue is.
Brounstein said that while he understands the frustrations it is hard to give specific answers while the town is still investigating the issue.
“A lot of this stuff takes time and a lot of stuff takes energy in the background to present information to the public of the relevant nature. I don’t want to just shoot from the hip and provide information that’s not accurate and not correct,” he said.
The town recently completed a new pumping station which is designed to remove solids from the wastewater before it goes to the lagoons for treatment. Despite the $5 million price tag, Brounstein said the station was never intended to be the solution.
“It will aid in our treatment process. It is going to allow us now to clean cell one and cell two of any sludge buildup and unfavourable materials and hopefully help to address our bacteriological growth.”
The town also brought in the engineering company TRUE Consulting to assess the current operations of the lagoons. They will present the town with a wastewater master plan once their review is completed.
“That master plan will provide us with key aspects in order to address our treatment process to make sure that, in the end, and by the time within the next five to 10 years, our treatment process is where it needs to be and should be, one for growth, and two for odour control,” said Brounstein.
The director of operations is in the process of reviewing a draft plan and hopes to present a report to town council in the next couple of months. The report will then available online.
While some residents on social media have expressed concerns over the amount of money that any potential fixes will cost, Riedener-Brunner doesn’t share that concern.
“I think that it needs to be a priority. Water treatment needs to be a priority,” she said.
Martins agreed. “We should be able to sit outside and have a picnic or a barbecue in our yard. And we can’t. I would just like them to get it resolved because we would like to enjoy our fall and winter and sit in our yards before the snow comes without it stinking,” she said