International Polar Year

Funded by the Government of Canada

Wastewater and water treatment methods are a particular challenge for Canada’s Northern communities. Due to remote location, colder climate, and socio-economic factors, many systems are rudimentary—more often than not, conventional systems are too expensive and complicated for these regions. Therefore, technologies suitable for northern applications need to have low capital cost and be simple to operate, yet effective in performance and economical in use.

The Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent called for the implementation of secondary level treatment of municipal sewage across Canada, including the North.

The CAWT identified constructed wetlands as a solution that could meet these unique conditions.

With funding from the Government of Canada’s Program for the International Polar Year, the CAWT studied the performance and efficacy of existing natural wetland treatment systems in six communities in Nunavut’s Kivalliq Region (pop. 8,300): Arviat, Whale Cove, Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake, Coral Harbour, and Repulse Bay. These communities surround Rankin Inlet, the only nearby community that maintains a centralized wastewater treatment facility.

The team also looked at how engineered constructed wetland treatment systems might function in the Arctic environment, examining the chemical and microbial processes occurring in treatment wetlands in cold climates and developing design models and recommendations for use in these regions.

In the long term, the CAWT’s objectives were to train local people in monitoring and operation of natural and engineered treatment systems. The team also continues to collect baseline data for use in policy development around treatment and effluent discharge standards.

This project has helped develop engineering and technological solutions using constructed wetlands and improving natural treatment wetlands to assist Northern communities to adapt to growing populations and associated public sanitation and related health issues.

Key messages from research

  • We developed an approximate determination of optimal treatment period for wastewater in Kivalliq Region communities. This will be very important for policy makers and community governments for the management of wastewater.
  • We successfully characterized treatment performance of current wastewater facilities in the Kivalliq Region. Not only has this contributed to the compliance reporting for the communities themselves, but will also have significant contributions towards new regulatory standards being proposed for northern communities.
  • A great achievement is the success of the pilot constructed wetland in Baker Lake. This system was found to sustain an Arctic winter as well be able to treat wastewater during the summer months.
  • Throughout the entire project, we incorporated a large number of local people from all seven Kivalliq Region communities. Many individuals were trained specifically to work in the lab environment, as well as to collect wastewater samples from their home communities.
  • We developed and released SubWet 2.0 with the United Nations Environmental Programme. This software is a tool to help practitioners and government model and appropriately size wetlands for wastewater treatment in the Arctic.