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Rehabilitation of Stoney Nation Big Horn Wastewater System improves quality of life and environment

The community of Big Horn 144A is located approximately 200 kilometres southwest of Edmonton in Southern Alberta. Big Horn 144A is part of Stoney Nation, which includes the Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Goodstoney First Nations. 

With a population of approximately 250 residents, the community relies on residential septic systems for managing their wastewater. In 2020, the community identified that failing septic systems, including overflowing septic tanks and broken wastewater pipes, had led to oversaturated soil in wastewater treatment mounds in residential yards.

Oversaturated wastewater treatment mounds can cause septic systems to flood into residents' yards or back up into homes. Saturated treatment mounds can also cause partially treated wastewater to enter downstream drinking water sources, as well as emit hazardous gases. Therefore, replacing the failing septic systems was critical to mitigate potential risks to residents, pets, and wildlife. 

Stoney Nation retained Associated Engineering to complete a feasibility report which identified 42 residential septic tanks and septic fields (treatment mounds) at the end of their service life. Improperly decommissioned septic tanks/treatment fields from previous projects were also discovered during the study and will be safely decommissioned as part of the project.

The project team worked closely with the Nation to complete the feasibility study and explore wastewater management options through a collaborative and open dialogue. In addition to collaboration with the Nation, the process involved community engagement. 

As Big Horn is a remote community with no trained wastewater treatment operations staff, operations and maintenance of a new wastewater management system is an important consideration for the Nation.

Project Manager, Abu Waraich, explains, "It was important to understand and respect our client's capacity, their needs, and requirements. We could not install large-scale wastewater treatment systems, such as lagoons or mechanical treatment, as they require trained operators and continuous system monitoring. In consultation with the Nation, we proposed septic systems which allow residents to manage their septic usage with just occasional operator visits."

The project team identified the critical septic tanks that needed immediate total/partial replacement and are currently updating ten septic tanks in the project's first phase. Phase two of the project will involve 25 more replacements of septic tanks, fields, or pumps. Abu shares, "In the next phase, the Nation will test a new technology in private wastewater management to improve treated water quality and lower project lifestyle costs."

Approximately 80% of the labour employed by the contractor are local band members.

Associated Engineering's team was involved in the system's start-up and commissioning to ensure that the systems work properly and to provide training. Our support includes creating an operator training action plan for long-term, phased maintenance for the Nation to implement and monitor, considering the Nation's limited operational and maintenance budget. 

Abu tells us, "For safety, we also worked with the contractor to install fencing around the treatment facilities. This lowers the risk of residents, especially children, coming into contact with wastewater-contaminated soil or animals walking over the treatment mounds and breaking the pipes and affecting the system's treatment effectiveness."

Key Associated personnel involved on this project include Abu Waraich, Eliman Camara, and Jorey Robin.

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