‘Poop and the City’—The Whitehorse Sewage System

Where does our poop go after we flush? Most of us don’t give it a second thought. It magically disappears, never to be seen again.

I contacted Karen Furlong, manager of Water and Waste Services for the City of Whitehorse, to get the “poop” on our sewage system. Turns out our liquid waste undergoes quite a journey after we flush, and we can help ensure that the system runs smoothly.

The sewage system has been around for many decades, although it has, of course, required expansion and maintenance over the years.

“The system has grown in stages, as population and subdivisions have been developed,” Furlong explained. “The oldest sections may be from the 1950s; however, different portions of the system—for example, downtown—have been through subsequent iterations of retrofitting.”

According to the City’s website, the sewage system consists of:

  • One main lagoon system that serves Porter Creek, Hillcrest, Takhini, Downtown, Riverdale and, more recently, Whistlebend
  • One minor lagoon system that serves Crestview
  • Four major lift stations and a flush tank
  • Five minor lift stations

The main Livingstone Lagoon is on the east side of the Yukon River. You may have seen it from the air as your plane circled the city and prepared to land. I asked Furlong if there was any concern that the rapidly expanding subdivision’s poop generation would overwhelm the system.

“The design capacity considers future population growth; so, no, the increased population does not currently put a strain on the system,” Furlong said. She added that in 2021, the system dealt with 4,418,825 cubic metres of sewage.

When you think of it, the wastewater generated by Whitehorsians has quite a distance to travel, and you’d wonder how it makes it across the river. Furlong explained how it travels through the sewage system before reaching its final destiny in the lagoons.

“Wastewater exits the dwellings—and commercial, institutional and industrial users—and travels, by gravity, through the underground wastewater collection pipes, to low points, where lift stations pump the wastewater into intermediate stations or all the way to the Livingstone Lagoon, which is the city’s main wastewater treatment plant.”

And how does the sewage get from one side of the river to the other?

“It’s generally gravity fed to a pump station in Marwell, where it’s then pumped in a pipe, under the river, to the lagoon,” Furlong explained. “The only exception would be parts of Porter Creek that are 100 per cent gravity fed to the lagoon, but part way there it goes into a holding tank, then again is gravity fed to Marwell and through pipes to the lagoon.”

Furlong says that about 25 people, on and off, are responsible for sewage operations in the city. Unfortunately, there are times when their work involves unclogging inappropriate materials and items that folks flush down toilets. This is where the “three Ps” come in.

“Only the three P’s should go into the toilets: pee, poo and (toilet) paper,” Furlong said. “The City spends time and effort unclogging wastewater screens and pump impellers, which become tangled with cloth, trash and ‘flushable’ wipes—[which are] not flushable—and shouldn’t be disposed of through the toilets.”

Some of the common culprits that folks flush include dental floss, tampon applicators, diapers, underwear and condoms. As well, said Furlong, “Fats, oils and greases should not be flushed or put down the drain, either, because they group together to make a large mat that looks like a glacier or lily pad, or stick to the sides of the walls of the stations, reducing their capacity and increasing odour issues.”

No flushing cat poop, either, unless you’ve trained your kitty to do their business directly into the toilet.

“Cat poop is usually collected through litter boxes, and if the poop from the litter boxes is disposed into the toilets, it would transfer a certain amount of litter material into the wastewater, and the litter could accumulate at the bottom of the sewer lines, diminishing its efficiency to wastewater flow,” Furlong explained.

The bottom line is, the City of Whitehorse sewage system is good to go for several years, providing that residents observe the “three Ps.”

For more information on the City of Whitehorse sewage system, visit https://www.whitehorse.ca/departments/water-and-waste-services/sewage-system

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