Metro Vancouver's new sewage treatment plant near YVR Airport to cost over $10 billion

Jul 8 2021, 3:53 pm

A rebuild and expansion of BC’s largest sewage treatment plant is expected to carry a cost comparable to the Site C hydroelectric dam. As planned, it will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever pursued in the province.

In a new report, Metro Vancouver Regional District staff state the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant project next to Iona Beach Regional Park, just northwest of Vancouver International Airport, is now expected to cost $10.4 billion, inclusive of contingencies.

This is more than five times the previously estimated cost of $2 billion, even as of 2019, and nearly four times the cost of the under-construction Broadway Subway project.

The project’s recent cost calculation is based on the regional district’s newly adopted way of estimating costs at an early stage of planning, as well as identified challenges over the past year relating to the development site and schedule constraints.

Significant challenges leading to the cost escalation include the four-year timeline to dewater the existing four sludge lagoons west of the current facility, the removal of biosolids stockpiles near the plant, and several years of ground improvements on the Fraser River delta.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Aerial of the existing Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, just northeast of Vancouver International Airport. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Aerial of the existing Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Accessibility to the site is an issue as it is a single-lane road in a remote location with limited work space.

Additionally, a large number of permits and approvals are required from multiple entities, which adds to the challenges and risk of delays.

All of this was not taken into consideration previously.

This is a redevelopment of the existing sewage treatment plant in the area, first opened in 1963, which provides primary wastewater treatment to much of the region, including parts of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, and the University Endowment Lands.

Households in this sewerage service area are expected to see an average additional $400 to $500 annual tax increase to fund the new plant.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Footprint of the existing Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Footprint of the new replacement Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Over a third of the project’s overall cost is from the replacement of the existing preliminary and primary treatment facilities, which are now past their lifespan and do not meet seismic standards.

The components of upgrading the plant to secondary and tertiary treatment standards is over 50% of the total costs. Other costs relate to geotechnical and seismic design standards, and ecological restoration and integration with the surrounding area.

With secondary treatment, the plant’s filtration system will be able to remove soluble organic matter that escapes primary treatment, effectively improving the water quality that is discharged in an outflow pipe into the Strait of Georgia.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Site plan of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Another major reason the regional district is pursuing this project at this time is because it is federally mandated; the federal government adopted a law in 2012 that requires a minimum of secondary treatment for sewage treatment plants, with this standard to be met by no later than the end of 2030.

However, based on the new timeline accounting for the construction challenges, the new Iona facility will not begin its operations of secondary treatment until 2034 at the earliest — four years after the federal deadline. Construction on the new replacement facility can only begin after ground improvements are completed.

The entire project will not reach completion until 2041, when additional digesters — a system that breaks down organic matter — are built. Until this additional digester capacity is constructed, the sludge from the Iona facility will need to be transported to other treatment plants elsewhere in the region. It is estimated that 35 trucks per day on average over six years will be needed to transport the sludge.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

About $750 million will be spent on early works between 2021 and 2025, followed by the lions’ share of $6.7 billion for advanced works from 2026 to 2034, and $3 billion for final works from 2035 to 2042.

The regional district approved the project’s preliminary design concept in July 2020, prior to the realization of cost escalation. They are now performing value engineering for a revised design with an aim of lowering the cost, and reducing the risk and length of the construction timeline. So far, planning and design work for the facility has cost $20.5 million, including an additional $4 million for the current work on addressing the challenges for a revised design.

A draft revised design will be ready by November 2021, ahead of a final decision by the regional district’s board of directors in early 2022.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

The Iona project is in addition to the regional district’s multibillion-dollar capital budget plan for replacing and expanding other water and sewage infrastructure, such as the $700 million new replacement sewage treatment in North Vancouver serving the North Shore (currently under construction for a 2024 completion) and the $1.3 billion expansion of the existing sewage treatment facility in Langley Township (set for completion in 2026).

Over the longer term, the regional district is also exploring options to increase its water storage capacity on the North Shore by building new dams and reservoirs.

Population growth and new development are also driving the need for the new and expanded infrastructure. The regional district anticipates Metro Vancouver’s population could rise from 2.8 million people in 2021 to 3.8 million by 2050.

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Artistic rendering of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

Site plan of the new Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and area ecological improvements. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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