The Indigenous peoples of Western Canada are well aware of the importance of water. Frequently they assigned place names on the basis of the nature of that resource; for example, “Winnipeg” is derived from the Cree words for “muddy water.” Unfortunately, far too may First Nations communities have to deal with exactly that kind of water for their domestic supplies. In this piece, Tim Nykoluk, Northern Infrastructure Manager, discusses a wastewater treatment project at the Oji-Cree First National Community of Red Sucker Lake in remote Manitoba.

The Oji-Cree First Nation Community of Red Sucker Lake is located in Manitoba, Canada approximately 706 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg. Access is restricted mainly to air travel with a winter road that typically provides vehicles with road access for approximately six weeks in the first quarter of the year.

In 2000, a new sequencing batch reactor (SBR) wastewater treatment plant (WWTPO) was advanced to serve the community with a capacity to treat 185 cubic metres of sewage per day. Over the years, the plant was plagued with various failures and breakdowns of mechanical and electrical components and, in 2014, the plant was shut down due to environmental non-compliance. The underground tankage had frozen solid. The full extent of damage was unclear due to the shutdown.

The community was in a state of environmental emergency as there was no infrastructure to treat raw sewage.

In 2017, the Department of Indigenous Services Canada (DISC – formerly INAC) provided funding to the First Nation to refurbish the plant. The scope of work was multidisciplinary in nature as many components needed replacing or upgrading.

Some examples of the upgrading include:

  • Site improvements made to facilitate access for truck haulers, upgraded site security, building door replacement and provision of a sea can container for additional dry equipment storage;
  • Process improvements to blower motors and refurbishes aeration header and diffuser replacement, ultraviolet disinfection bulb replacements to restore disinfection, interior building lighting replacements;
  • Mechanical improvements replacing all process pumps with the supply of spares as well as hot water tank replacement; and
  • Electrical improvements including unit heater replacement, emergency standby generator overhaul, control panels upgrade and lighting surge protection.


WSP Canada completed the designs and tendered out the work in the fall of 2017 and looks to deliver the project ahead of schedule (before end of 2017-2018 fiscal year end), with tender prices being under budget. Currently the project is wrapping up construction with the plant’s process to be biologically ‘re-seeded’ with activated sludge in preparation for accepting sewage from the community and achieving operational status. Concurrent with this project, it was identified that the sewage wastewater plant serving the community’s school complex could no longer maintain service. An environmentally sustainable and reliable method of managing its wastewater was needed. A subsequent tender was let to connect the existing school complex via a piped sewage forcemain to the newly refurbished community wastewater plant.

This project provides a sustainable solution to meet the long-term needs of Red Sucker Lake. This is good news for a community trying to return to normal after undergoing a number of difficult years!

***This article first appeared in Western Canada Water magazine’s Spring 2018 issue. 

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