This episode begins with a remarkable story about vision, persistence and, sewage. It’s the tale of the little town of Niverville, Manitoba and its groundbreaking solution to dealing with night soil. Next, as winter approaches we ask the question everybody thinks of when they stroll past frozen ponds. It’s about ducks and feet. Let’s dive right in.
First Story Summary
Niverville sounds like the name of a town in a fairytale. But the community, nestled in the Red River Valley, had a giant-sized problem with a sewage lagoon that no longer could serve the farming burg’s burgeoning population.
In 2011 Niverville had to decommission its overtaxed and 37-year-old pond of poop before it could build a new one. But, what to do with the 48,000 cubic metres of biosolids - human waste - that had built up in the facilities’ two containment cells? Bureaucrats and engineers told the town fathers they had two options. Cart the biosolids to a landfill site or spread it over farmland, valuable farmland, farmland the Niverville sludge would put out of commission for months.
Jim Buys, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer wasn’t happy with either traditional and expensive option. A trade show meeting with Native Plant Solutions, the consulting arm of Ducks Unlimited Canada, pointed to another option. The ecological consultants and Buys came up with option three, a ecological white knight ready to slay the giant that lay fallow in the town’s south end.
For the first time in North America they wanted to use cattails and other plants to remediate the biosolids that burdened the borough. The process is called phytoremediation, a natural process that had been used when sewage lagoons were built, but never to put them out to pasture, or, really out to wetland. Niverville and Native Plant Solutions worked with scientists at the University of Manitoba, to determine the best way to plant, harvest and monitor the aquatic plants.
Those plants would extract metal contaminates and nutrients like phosphorus from the bothersome biomass. That way it would be safe habitat for wetland flora and fauna. At least, that was the theory.
It was risky journey. It took a lot of experimentation and research. But the town’s journey was, in fact, a fairytale full of hope, heroes and happy endings.
I let Jim Buys himself tell us all about his town’s noble quest.
Second Story Summary
Picture this: it’s winter and there are ducks on a frozen pond. Tell me you didn’t ask the same question I asked Jim Devries, a research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research.
Chief Administrative Officer, Town of Niverville
Jim has served as the Chief Administrative Officer/Town Manager for Niverville since 1985. During his tenure, the Town has experienced significant population growth, being recognized as Manitoba’s fastest growing urban municipality. Jim, working with his councils and staff, has placed a strong emphasis on sustainable environment development within all departments ensuring the prudent utilization of our natural resources. From land development to waste management to operational services, staff are encouraged to strive for resource balance enabling the community to practice responsible environmental stewardship.
Jim and his wife Claire are the parents of four children who were introduced at a young age to nature by hiking, canoeing and cross-country skiing throughout Manitoba’s incredibly diverse landscape. Currently they live on an organic farm just outside of the community which is operated by their son. The family has grown to include eight wonderful grandkids.
Jim Devries, PhD
Research Scientist, Ducks Unlimited Canada
Jim Devries joined Ducks Unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research (IWWR) in 1991 and has been in his current role since 2014. He is responsible for co-ordinating applied research within Western Canada. This includes helping to identify research needs, designing research studies, analyzing research results and communicating research results to our staff and the wider scientific community.
Jim conducts extensive field work and analyzes large databases that relate local and landscape level habitat conditions to waterfowl productivity and responses in biodiversity metrics. Jim is also involved in translating the results of IWWR’s recent field investigations into the Waterfowl Productivity Model (WPM), a planning tool designed to estimate waterfowl productivity gains resulting from landscape change including the impacts of conservation programs.