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Biosolids Land Application

The City of Winnipeg is developing a Biosolids Land Application program and is exploring opportunities in the area west and southwest of Winnipeg such as the R.M. of Macdonald and the R.M. of Cartier. Biosolids are a nutrient-rich, solid by-product of wastewater treatment. Applying biosolids to farmland brings much needed nutrients to the soil and provides an opportunity to reuse wastewater biosolids instead of disposing them in the landfill. Biosolids land application is a safe, sustainable, provincially regulated strategy for biosolids management.

The Biosolids Land Application program includes three phases:

  • Phase one, which began in early 2017, includes public engagement and applying for an Environment Act Licence from the Province of Manitoba.
  • Phase two is scheduled to begin in fall 2017 and includes a pilot project, which will have 5,000 wet tonnes (WT) of biosolids applied to farmland.
  • Phase three includes a plan for a 20,000 WT per year, three-year land application program, after successful completion of phase one and phase two.

Background

The Biosolids Land Application program is a recommendation from the City of Winnipeg Biosolids Master Plan. The Biosolids Master Plan is a 30-year vision for how the City of Winnipeg will manage its biosolids in an environmentally sound, sustainable and cost-effective manner, while meeting provincial regulations.

The Biosolids Master Plan was developed in response to the updated Water Protection Act (Manitoba), which states that the City of Winnipeg wastewater biosolids must be beneficially reused and nutrients must be recovered and recycled to the maximum extent possible. The City of Winnipeg submitted the Biosolids Master Plan to the Province of Manitoba in 2014 and received approval in March 2016. The Biosolids Master Plan recommends land application as one of the key reuse strategies to recover and recycle nutrients for the following reasons:

  • Reuse of nutrients provides a valuable resource to farmland
  • High regional suitability (plenty of farmland)

The goal is to develop and manage a biosolids land application program which maximizes the beneficial use of biosolids, minimizes the project risks and complies with all applicable regulations.

The Biosolids Land Application program will be influenced by provincial regulations, public input, and characteristics of application sites, such as soil, slope, type of crop, and distance to water bodies.

Timeline

January 2017

Biosolids Land Application Project Begins

April - September 2017

Stakeholder and Public Engagement

July 2017

Public Open Houses

September 2017

Public Engagement Report Complete

October 2017

Submit Environment Act Proposal to the Province

October 2017

Land Application Pilot

May 2018

2018 Biosolids Land Application Program Operation begins

October 2018

2018 Biosolids Land Application Program Operation complete

May 2019

Environment Act Licence Issued (anticipated)

2019 Biosolids Land Application Program Operation to begin (anticipated)

Engage

Thank you to all who completed the survey or attended the open houses on July 11, 2017 in Brunkild, MB and July 12, 2017 in Elie, MB. The public engagement report is now available and provides a summary of the public engagement process undertaken and the feedback collected for the program.

For inquiries, please contact:

Phone: 1-888-882-3391
Email: BiosolidsLandApplication@winnipeg.ca

Documents

Document Name Date Type
News Release – Project Launch 2017-04-04 News Release
Capital Region Workshop Summary Report 2017-05-04 Report
News Release – Open House 2017-06-28 News Release
Open House Storyboards 2017-06-28 Open House Materials
Quick Facts Handout 2017-06-28 Open House Materials
Program Details and Proposed Approach Handout 2017-06-28 Open House Materials
Open House Invitation 2017-06-28 Open House Materials
Municipal Stakeholder Meetings Summary Report 2017-07-17 Report
Open House Summary Report 2017-10-20 Report
Public Engagement Summary Report 2017-10-20 Report
Field Storage Assessment Pilot Program Report 2017-12-12 Report
Land Application Pilot Program Report 2017-12-21 Report
Comments Document

Frequently Asked Questions

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General Information

Biosolids are a nutrient-rich, solid by-product of wastewater treatment. At Winnipeg’s sewage treatment plants, the solids are separated from the liquid wastewater. These solids, also known as sludge, consist mainly of organic matter, are further treated and dewatered. After treatment, the solids are called biosolids.

At the sewage treatment plants, the wastewater goes through a series of treatment processes and the solid material is separated from the liquid wastewater. The solid material, also known as sludge, is further treated in a biological digestion process. Excess water is then removed in a process known as dewatering, resulting in the treated material called biosolids. Please visit the City’s Sewage Treatment Plants webpage for more information on the wastewater treatment processes.

Yes. Production, transport, use (including beneficial use) and management of biosolids is regulated by the Province of Manitoba. In Manitoba, the principles of beneficial reuse and sustainable practices are encouraged.

Approximately 47,000 wet tonnes (12,800 dry tonnes) of biosolids were produced in 2016. See the annual biosolids compliance reports for more information.

Prior to January 1, 2011, the City applied a portion of the biosolids on farmland. Biosolids were delivered, spread and incorporated on farmland at no cost to landowners. In 2010, approximately 48% of Winnipeg’s biosolids were applied on the land, and the rest was sent to landfill at Brady Road Resource Management Facility.

In January 2011, the land application program ended due to changes in the Water Protection Act (Manitoba). The updated regulation prohibits land application in winter and decreases the allowable application rate of biosolids to farmland.

In 2014, the City completed the Biosolids Master Plan, which recommends multiple strategies to beneficially reuse biosolids. The City is currently pursuing three beneficial reuse strategies for biosolids:

  • In May 2015, the City began a pilot project to compost a portion of the biosolids. Composting biosolids produces a stable end product, which is high in organic matter and can be used as a soil amendment.
  • The City is currently developing a Biosolids Land Application program. The pilot project, which will have 5,000 wet tonnes (WT) biosolids applied, is planned for fall 2017.
  • In 2017, there are plans to run a demonstration project to use a portion of the biosolids and other residuals for soil fabrication. The soil would be used as a top cover at the Brady Road Resource Management Facility.

The updated Water Protection Act (Manitoba) states that the City of Winnipeg wastewater biosolids must be beneficially reused and nutrients must be recovered and recycled to the maximum extent possible.

Reuse of biosolids is inherently beneficial and key to sustainable resource management. Biosolids contain valuable nutrients and organic matter that can improve soil quality. Biosolids are used in agriculture to improve crop yields, reduce soil erosion and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Land application is a practice widely used in Canada and all over the world.

Biosolids are a local and renewable resource. Biosolids contain slow-releasing nutrients that are essential for plant growth. Biosolids add organic matter to enrich and improve the soil’s ability to absorb and store moisture. The use of biosolids reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

In addition, reusing biosolids keeps biosolids out of landfills which reduces the need for landfill space and reduces the creation of methane and other greenhouse gases.

Biosolids come in several different forms, depending on the treatment processes. For the land application program, the biosolids resemble fine-textured dark soil with a solids content of approximately 25% by weight.

Yes, biosolids have an odour. The land application program will operate in accordance with all regulations and the City will continue to explore methods for odour mitigation.

Land Application Of Biosolids

Agricultural producers use biosolids to help improve crop growth and yield. Biosolids contain nutrients necessary for crop growth, and help replenish the organic matter of the soil that has been depleted over time.

Crops can use the nitrogen and phosphorous found in biosolids very efficiently because the nutrients are released slowly throughout the growing season. The crops can absorb the nutrients as they grow.

The Province of Manitoba outlines crop restrictions in the Environment Act Licences for land application programs. The following crops can be grown for a period of three years after the application of biosolids: cereal crops, forage crops, oil seed crops, field peas, soybeans, lentils and corn. After the three year period, farm producers are not restricted to what they can grow. Biosolids land application is not permitted on direct edible crops (i.e., potatoes, carrots, onions).

In Manitoba, biosolids are applied at "agronomic" rates that match the needs of crops, as outlined in the Nutrient Management Regulation (Manitoba). Biosolids release plant nutrients slowly, which protects against surface runoff and groundwater effects. Once the biosolids are applied, they can be plowed into the top six inches of soil, leaving little visible trace on the surface.

In Manitoba, the amount of biosolids that can be applied is specific to each site. The Nutrient Management Regulation (Manitoba) outlines the amounts and timing of biosolids application, which is influenced by the nutrient needs of the crop, amount of nutrients already present in the soil, and the level of nutrients in the biosolids. Application rates are developed and managed by a registered Professional Agrologist.

Safety Of Biosolids

Land application of biosolids has minimal risk to human health and the environment, provided all regulations are followed. This has been documented in a number of studies, including those completed by the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Water Environment Association of Ontario.

In Manitoba, the following standards are in place for biosolids land application:

  • Testing of biosolids and testing of soil at receiving sites
  • Application rates based on site specific conditions
  • Requirements for application to take place at specified minimum distance away from homes, wells, water bodies, etc.
  • Mandatory waiting periods after application before crops can be harvested or livestock allowed to graze
  • Soil monitoring for 3 years following application

Scientists, health experts and agronomists continually review regulatory requirements and standards for biosolids land application to verify that they protect food safety, human health and the environment. Revisions are made as necessary, based on new science or technology.

Land application of biosolids has minimal risk to the environment, provided all regulations are followed. The biosolids land application program will comply with all provincial regulations, including the Nutrient Management Regulation (Manitoba).

The purpose of the Nutrient Management Regulation is to protect water quality by encouraging responsible nutrient application. The Regulation has defined zones that determine where biosolids can be applied. Biosolids cannot be applied in the nutrient buffer zone, which includes land near water bodies, wetlands, groundwater features, flood zones, etc.

The Environment Act Licence regulates the following nine metals to a maximum cumulative soil concentration: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, magnesium, lead, mercury, nickel, copper and zinc. All of these metals are found naturally in soil. Many of these metals are considered micro-nutrients for the crop including magnesium, copper and zinc. The background concentrations of the metals must be considered in the cumulative soil concentrations.

In addition, the program will comply with the CCME soil quality guidelines, which outline the maximum acceptable concentrations of metals in soil. The soil quality guidelines are science based limits that have been specifically derived for each substance for protection of the environment and human health. The guidelines consider the different ecological receptors and potential exposure pathways, including uptake of contaminants from soil by plants, for specific land uses including agricultural land. For each substance, the guideline is based on the lowest and most conservative value generated by the environmental and human health approaches. For more information on the soil quality guidelines, the behavior of metals in soil, and the effects on plants, livestock and human health, please visit the CCME website.

Last updated: February 1, 2019