Municipality seeks to prevent future landslides near wastewater treatment plant

After landslides in May of this year, Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality is working to get the wastewater treatment plant back to full use before the winter season.
A dry channel in dirt is filled with rocks. There are trees and underbrush on each side of the channel.
The new channel formed during a spring landslide above the wastewater treatment plant, damaging the three rapid infiltration trenches used to store treated wastewater. The landslide then made its way down to Sun Peaks Road leading to single-lane traffic. Photo by Liz McDonald

After a series of landslides in May that impacted Sun Peaks Road and the wastewater treatment plant, Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is looking to improve slope stability near the facility and prevent future landslides in the area.

On May 14, a combination of heavy snowpack and later-than-usual spring melt, combined with rain caused new water channels to form above the wastewater treatment plant, which entered the rapid infiltration trenches used to discharge wastewater at the facility. The resulting emergency response was close to $200,000, and Emergency Management B.C. will cover the unexpected cost for the municipality, according to Shane Bourke, outgoing chief administrative officer (CAO) for SPMRM.

Bourke explained the influx of water, trees and mud meant all three rapid infiltration trenches couldn’t receive treated wastewater, requiring the municipality to temporarily discharge treated wastewater in the surrounding area.

“There’s an unpopulated area that we were able to discharge the treated [wastewater] into the trees and then the surrounding area,” Bourke said. “It was also diluted because there was so much water coming down. 

Bourke went on to say that “a rigorous testing program” was implemented to ensure the health and safety of the area. No untreated wastewater was released into the environment around the wastewater treatment plant, and the municipality contacted property owners downstream out of an abundance of caution Bourke explained. He emphasized the choice wasn’t ideal, but releasing treated wastewater was the only way to ensure water access remained in Sun Peaks.

In the weeks following the landslide, SPMRM worked to recover two of the rapid infiltration trenches, but the third is still offline and needs to be rebuilt to handle wastewater flows come winter.

The costs for rebuilding the third trench will be covered through insurance Bourke said.

To prevent the impact of potential future landslides, the municipality is planning to stabilize the slope above the wastewater treatment facility, using large stones to redirect water flows.

Another option includes rerouting the newly-formed water channel, but that would be a long-term project because the new channel is on a steep slope and goes up for hundreds of meters. 

The municipality’s current focus is on getting the third trench up and running for the winter and armouring the slope before they turn their attention to prevention, Bourke said.

Sun Peaks Road was washed out during the same weather event. The culvert under the pavement, which routes water, was filled with debris, causing water to pool over the road and destabilize the pavement.

“We’ll either have to upgrade those or monitor them and keep them free and clear of debris,” Bourke told SPIN
While work is ongoing to ensure the wastewater treatment plant and Sun Peaks Road can withstand future spring melts, Bourke expressed gratitude to the utilities and fire department for managing the emergency at the time.

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