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Western Canada Water Conference and Exhibition September 17-20, 2013 Edmonton Alberta

A COMPARISON OF WATER AND SANITATION IN THE CANADIAN NORTH AND THE AMERICAN NORTH Ken Johnson, Stantec ABSTRACT The challenges associated with water and sanitation in the Canadian north (Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Territory), and the American north (Alaska) are much the same with the extremes in climate, geography and socio-economics. However, the water and sanitation approaches applied in each region have evolved with different technical approaches, administrative support, political, and socio-economic influences. The current status of water and sanitation in the smaller communities of Alaska (excluding the North Slope) is that approximately 55 percent of the communities have piped systems (135 communities); 21 percent have onsite household systems (50 communities); 18 percent are unserved (45 communities) and 4 percent have hauled systems (10 communities). The unserved communities in Alaska have access to "washeterias", which are centralized water and sanitation facilities. In comparison with the Canadian north, only 18 percent of the communities are piped (16 of 85 communities) and the remaining 84 percent have trucked (hauled) water and sanitation. This difference in service levels is a function of capital funding, but also the historical philosophy toward water and sanitation in each of the regions. The capital funding difference is that multiple funding agencies may provide independent dollars in grant funding. The philosophical difference is that no operation and maintenance funding has been provided for water and sanitation in Alaska, whereas considerable operation and maintenance funding is provided in northern Canada. The anticipated outcomes of these different approaches to water and sanitation are the cause of considerable concern in both regions. In Alaska, the investment in capital projects has an associated concern for the necessary follow-through operation and maintenance. There are also public health concerns with the "user pay" approach in Alaska, which influences the household water and sanitation practices. In the Canadian north, the increasing high capital costs water and sanitation projects, and the unfolding


regulatory framework, particularly for sanitation, has created concerns for the costs, and the operation and maintenance legacies. HISTORY AND CURRENT STATUS OF WATER AND SANITATION IN THE NORTH The history of water and sanitation in northern Canada may be followed back to the turn of the last century in the community of Dawson City, Yukon. The development of the industrial mining activity near Dawson, following the Klondike gold rush, included a large scale hydraulic project called the “Yukon Ditch” which conveyed water 110 kilometre for hydraulic mining. With this industrial scale of water conveyance, a modest water and sewer system was developed within the townsite of Dawson City. This system provided a continuous supply of water that was freeze protected by continuous bleeding to the river, and construction adjacent to steam lines. However, Dawson's system was unique, and other modest systems did not follow until the 1940's when Yellowknife and Aklavik installed seasonal surface distribution systems. The construction of the Town of Inuvik in the late 1950's was the first modern water and sewer system in the Canadian north. Other piped systems were constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the expansion of the community infrastructure in the communities of Whitehorse, Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Rankin Inlet, and Iqaluit. However the majority of the water and sanitation infrastructure in the Canadian north has remained trucked water supply and trucked sewage collection. Of the 84 communities in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, only 16 of the communities (18 percent) have piped systems, and the remaining 84 percent have trucked (hauled) water and sanitation. This history of water and sanitation in Alaska had a similar start with water systems constructed by the industrial activity associated with the Alaska Railroad. The original water system for Anchorage was constructed by the Alaska Railroad in 1917, and in 1921 the City of Anchorage purchased the water system and associated water rights. Fairbanks water and sewer system also grew from the industrial activity associated with the Alaska railway in the 1920’s. The capital city of Juneau developed its water and sanitation systems after it was declared the capital city of Alaska in 1906, although significant development did not occur until the late 1920’s. The remainder of the Alaskan communities, numbering close to 250 remained essentially unserviced until the 1950’s. In 1950, fewer than 10 percent of Rural Alaska homes had modern sanitation. In 1954, when the U.S. Public Health Service created the Indian health program with a mandate to improve native Alaskan health; at the time infectious diseases were responsible for 46 percent of the deaths of Alaska Natives. Between 1950 and 1970 the improvements to the water and sanitation in the rural communities were modest, whereas the improvements to water and sanitation in the larger communities of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau were significant. In the 1970’s a concerted effort was made to provide centralized water and sanitation facilities to communities, with the objectives of 100 percent water treatment to full


regulatory compliance, storage of large quantities of water, distribution of treated water to individual homes through pipes or haul vehicle, and collection of household sewage for lagoon disposal. The achievement of this water and sanitation servicing object has been slow given the number of communities and the capital costs. Alaska today has a population of 730,000 people, of which 300,000 live in Anchorage and 30,000 each live in Fairbanks in Juneau. All of the remaining communities have populations of less than 10000 people. Approximately 70,000 of the estimated 120,000 Native Alaskans live in 170 rural villages with populations of less than 300 people each. The current status of water and sanitation in the smaller communities of Alaska (excluding the North Slope) is that approximately 55 percent of the communities have piped systems (135 communities); 21 percent have onsite household systems (50 communities); 18 percent are unserved (45 communities) and 4 percent have hauled systems (10 communities). CURRENT TYPES OF WATER AND SANITATION SYSTEMS IN THE NORTH In Alaska, the existing systems are comprised of washeterias and central water points, individual well and inground systems, water and sewer truck or trailer haul systems, and piped water and sewer systems. Washeterias and central watering points are treated drinking water sources delivered to a single service connection and people must use their own containers to collect drinking water. This service level (referred to as "unserved") does not provide drinking water or wastewater removal from homes, which means that the basic health benefits of running water and flush toilets are not realized. Individual wells and septic systems make use of the favourable in-situ soil conditions, which includes the absence of significant permafrost. The concerns with this service level, is that the systems often do not meet the minimum separation distances for safety, for example wells can become contaminated with inadequately treated sewage if the proximity is too close.

Figure 1: “Washeteria� Facility in Buckland, Alaska Trailer haul systems, which are a scaled down version of a truck haul system, utilize 4 wheel all terrain vehicles (summer) and snowmobiles (winter) to pull specially designed


trailer mounted water or sewage containers. These systems have high operating costs, which are passed on to the residents without any subsidy. An outcome of this user pay approach is that the homeowners often self-limit water use and reuse the dirty water multiple times which leads to the spread of disease.

Figure 2: Flush Tank and Haul System in Alaska Piped water and sewer systems is the service level which provides centralized water and sewage treatment with the piped distribution of water and piped collection of sewage. In Canada, the service levels are grouped into trucked services (water supply and sewage pickup) and piped services (pipe water distribution and piped sewage collection). A common denominator between the trucked and piped systems is the need for water and sewage treatment systems. The technologies for water treatment are ultimately site specific, but the water treatment processes generally strive for a multi-barrier treatment systems with disinfection upon discharge into the distribution system. The preferred sewage treatment system is a lagoon retention system with seasonal discharge, although there are variations on this system, and 6 communities in the Canadian north have mechanical sewage treatment systems.

Figure 3: Trucked Sewage Collection in Canada (Pangnirtung) This overall difference in types of water and sanitation systems in northern Canada and Alaska is a function of the design philosophy and site specific design criteria, and capital


funding, but also the historical philosophy toward water and sanitation in each of the regions. The capital funding difference is that multiple funding agencies may provide independent dollars in grant funding. The philosophical difference is that no operation and maintenance funding has been provided for water and sanitation in Alaska, whereas considerable operation and maintenance funding is provided in northern Canada. THE TURNING POINTS FOR NORTHERN WATER AND SANITATION The relationship between water use and incidence of disease (more water use and less incidence of disease) has been a theory for more than 50 years, but with little or no scientific evidence of the relationship. In the Canadian north, research into this relationship was completed in the mid 1980’s, which ultimately provided a mathematical relationship shown in Figure 3, which suggests a decrease in the incidence of intestinal disease with water use levelling out at 90 litres per capita per day. This research was adopted into a water and sanitation policy that is applied in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Prior to this research, the policy for water supply in the Northwest Territories / Nunavut was 45 litres per capita per day.

Figure 4: Relationship between the Incidence of Intestinal Disease and Water Use in Northern Canada In Alaska, the absence of in-home access to safe drinking water and sewage disposal is a documented cause of high disease rates, including severe skin infections and respiratory illnesses. Several recent Alaskan studies found that a lack of in-home piped water service is associated with higher incidence of respiratory tract and skin infections among rural Alaska Natives. However, the Alaskan studies, unlike the Canadian studies in the 1980’s, did not relate disease rates to per capita water use, and their general conclusion is that there is no “magic number” for per capita water use and incidence of disease. Consequently, Alaska does not have any particular policy on minimum water supply quantities.


In Alaska, conventional, community-wide piped systems and truck haul systems are increasingly expensive to construct, maintain and replace. The available capital funding cannot meet the demand for new systems and rehabilitation of aging systems. As well, many communities cannot afford the high operation and maintenance costs associated with piped or haul systems. These emerging realities have prompted Alaska to embark on a significant program to develop and implement decentralized water and sanitation systems. DIFFERENCES IN NORTHERN CANADIAN AND ALASKAN DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS The design considerations for northern Canada and Alaska are a function of the climate, geography, geology and populations, and design objectives of the various regions. The vast geography of the regions results in substantial differences in climate and geology, which manifests itself in the seasonal temperature extremes, the nature of the permafrost, and the nature of in-situ soils. These criteria directly influence the design considerations for water and sanitation in the north. Table 1 presents a specific comparison of design considerations that are applied in the Canadian north and Alaska. Table 1: Differences in Design Considerations Component Source water preference

Canadian North Surface water

Alaska Ground water

Distribution system preference

Truck haul distribution

Piped distribution

Facility selection analysis

Low life cycle cost

Low operational cost

Community size

Larger average community size

Smaller average community size

More specific differences in the design considerations in the Canadian north and Alaska may be identified in a comparison of the completed infrastructure in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and St. Michael, Alaska. In comparing the completed utilidor in Figure 5 (Inuvik), and the utilidor in Figure 6 (St. Michael), the Canadian system is more robust with independent water and sewer piping support by a steel pile system. The robust nature of the Canadian is reflected in the cost of $6,000 to $8000 per metre.


Figure 5: Canadian “Utilidor” System in Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Figure 6: American “Utilidor” System in St Michael, Alaska

DIFFERENCES IN CANADIAN AND ALASKAN POLICIES The policies concerning water and sanitation systems in northern Canada and Alaska provide another significant difference in the water and sanitation service level that is delivered to communities as presented in Table 2. The Canadian government policy of national health care provides an overriding objective for government assistance to water and sanitation, which translates into operation and maintenance subsidies, and specific policies for water quantity in addition to water quality.


Table 2: Differences in Administration of Water and Sanitation Services Component Operation and maintenance subsidies

Canadian North Operation and maintenance subsidies

Alaska No operation and maintenance subsidies

Government obligation

Provide healthy living conditions

Provide sanitation infrastructure

Health care system

National health care system

No national health care system

Water quality and quantity

Policy to provide quantity and quality to protect human health

Policy to provide quality to protect human health

DIFFERENCES IN CANADIAN AND ALASKAN FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS The financial considerations concerning water and sanitation systems in northern Canada and Alaska provide another significant difference in the water and sanitation service level that is delivered to communities as presented in Table 3. Table 3: Differences in Financial Considerations Component Capital costs

Canadian North Invest in lower capital costs for trucked infrastructure

Alaska Invest in higher capital costs for piped infrastructure

Operation and maintenance costs

Range to be $200,000 to $400,000 for a community

Anticipated to be $100,000 for a community

Administration of service

Service not discontinued for non-payment

Service discontinued for non- payment

Dispersion of financial assistance

Only Territorial governments provide financial assistance

Difference entities provide independent financial assistance


THE “PIPE” AHEAD FOR NORTHERN WATER AND SANITATION IN NORTH AMERICA In northern Canada there are three significant areas of concern and, in addition to the continuing overall concern about the capital, and operation and maintenance costs. 

Water treatment processes to respond to regulatory demands – the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality have been adopted as law in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and may be eventually adopted by Nunavut, and with this legislation comes the demand for more sophisticated water treatment technologies.

Certification of water treatment operating staff to respond to regulatory demands – the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality have been adopted as law in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and may be eventually adopted by Nunavut, and with this legislation comes the demand for operator certification to respond to regulatory demands

Wastewater treatment processes to respond to regulatory demands – the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment have developed a harmonized wastewater effluent quality guideline that has been adopted by the Yukon Territory, and could be adopted by the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and with this legislation comes the demand for hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditures, and tens of millions of dollars in operation and maintenance expenditures.

In Alaska, cost is the overriding area of concern associated with water and sanitation. More specifically the concern is associated with the large gap in capital needs and available capital funding, as well as the operation and maintenance costs for water and sanitation infrastructure. This concern is being addressed in principle by a program to develop and implement decentralized water and sanitation systems. The program recognizes that a decentralized approach provides small scale treatment at each home, and the potential for reduced capital and operation and maintenance costs. Alaska has stated the position that innovative technologies hold the most promise for use in delivering affordable water and wastewater services to rural Alaska. REFERENCES Ritter, T.L. Sharing Environmental Health Practice in the North American Arctic: A Focus on Water and Wastewater Service. April, 2006.


A Comparison of Water and Sanitation in the Canadian North and the American North