Gillam, Manitoba is an 11-hour drive north of Winnipeg, the nearest major city. In fact, Gillam is much closer to Churchill, known as the polar bear capital of the world, which is barely south of the Arctic Circle. In such a remote location, the community is particularly dependent on its water treatment plant to provide a continuous supply of safe drinking water. Yet Gillam’s water treatment plant was built in 1973, and although it was updated in the ’90s it had reached the end of its life expectancy. The plant was failing; controls that used to be automatic had to be operated manually. And every day that passed put the town at further risk of failures that could lead to shutdowns and boil-water advisories.

In a typical Gillam summer, rain falls relentlessly, and in winter, temperatures often drop below -30 degrees Celsius. This inclement weather makes for challenging construction conditions: rain and snow can cause work delays, and extreme cold makes concrete tough to pour. Plus, Gillam’s remote location means deliveries are expensive and can be logistically challenging.

When the Town of Gillam awarded PCL Winnipeg a contract to design and construct a new water treatment plant, the team was up to the challenge. Through innovative site updates, meticulous scheduling and planning, extensive experience, and a strong relationship with the client, PCL Winnipeg successfully delivered a project that will provide Gillam with an essential utility far into the future.

PCL Winnipeg had completed projects nearby and had worked in many remote locations in northern Manitoba and beyond. Further, PCL has long served the water and wastewater markets, completing hundreds of projects across North America that provide more than 75 million cubic meters of treated water per day.

Water and wastewater infrastructure projects are often completed through traditional project delivery methods, in which the owner hires the designer and the contractor separately. Yet for the Gillam water treatment plant, the client chose to procure this project using a design-build model to advance the schedule and substantial completion. Bidding to a basic Owner’s Statement of Requirements (OSR), PCL and the chosen designer (Stantec) produced the best solution for the client. Working collaboratively with the client throughout the design and build, PCL was able to manage the client’s concerns, demonstrate compliance with the OSR, and meet the project schedule requirements. To ensure success, PCL provided a strong team and leadership for the project.

The team built a concrete reservoir, erected a pre-engineered building complete with the treatment process and offices and built a water distribution recirculation monitoring building several miles away in the town.  

First, a raw water intake uses self-priming end suction pumps, along with dual Z-Alloy, Zebra Mussel-resistant intake screens, to pump the water from Stephens Lake into a Dissolved Air Floatation (DAF) unit that removes the suspended solids and prepares the raw water for UV and chemical treatment. The entire facility has a N+1 level of redundancy to ensure the system will remain operable even during full maintenance of the primary systems.  

After UV disinfection, sodium hypochlorite, fluorosilicic acid and sodium hydroxide are added and the treated water is discharged to the below-grade concrete reservoirs for distribution, fire and equalization storage. Due to the cold climate, prior to distribution the potable water is heated using a boiler and distributed to the recirculating distribution system. Sludge from the DAF is dewatered using a centrifuge and discharged to a trailer that will be periodically hauled to the landfill. The process waste from the storage tank is pumped to the wastewater treatment plant via a lower-pressure sewer line that discharges to the town’s gravity collection system.

The plant produces treated potable water that meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and the Manitoba Drinking Water Safety Act. Dual delivery pipelines for heat and recirculation convey the water into the town’s distribution system, and wastewater is directed to the town’s wastewater collection. The distribution system currently receives about 865 cubic meters per day, and that average is projected to increase to 1,000 cubic meters by 2040, accommodating the town’s expected population growth.

The plant is equipped with a back-up generator capable of running the potable water distribution system, as well as a boiler, treatment process, HVAC systems and building systems. The system will be programmed to provide load shedding and features a staggered start for all the loads on a power transfer to and from utility or generator power. This prevents overloading of the power source.

Gillam’s remoteness – the town is more than 1,000 kilometers from Winnipeg – had an upside: Isolation creates small-town neighborliness, as a result PCL was able establish a strong relationship with the Town. The town superintendent and the plant operator were never too far away – one lived just down the street from the plant – so if the team needed advice, help was always close by, and the lines of communication were always open.  

PCL’s transparency bolstered this already-strong relationship. PCL provided the client with a steady stream of site photos and updates, including virtual 360-degree walkthroughs and photo updates, a live feed of the entire site, and drone flights that provided overhead photos of site conditions. While the client appreciated this level of access, it benefitted PCL, too, since the information was sent to the consultants and advisors working in Winnipeg.

Ultimately, PCL Winnipeg successfully completed the new water treatment plant and ensured that the people of Gillam will benefit from it for many years to come. Water and wastewater infrastructure are vital for any community’s long-term health, but that’s especially true for remote communities like Gillam. The PCL Winnipeg team was proud to play a part in its future.

Learn more about PCL’s work in the water and wastewater infrastructure markets here

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