Manitoba Installers Promote Using New Onsite Technologies

Manitoba wastewater association wants provincial environmental officials to consider new onsite treatment technologies in environmentally sensitive areas.
Manitoba Installers Promote Using New Onsite Technologies
Hugh Bonner

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The people who install onsite wastewater systems in Manitoba have some thoughts about improving the industry in the Canadian province. Regulators have a few ideas of their own. Since the two organizations have developed a good relationship over the years, the chances of moving forward are pretty good.

“They rely on our association for real boots-on-the-ground support for what they’re trying to do,” says Hugh Bonner, continuing education chairman and longtime board member of the Onsite Wastewater Systems Installers of Manitoba (OWSIM). 

Formed in 2006, OWSIM has just over 100 members. There are a few engineers and suppliers, but the vast majority are installers, representing roughly half of the active installers across the province. The industry is regulated by Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship (CWS).

“They come to us when they have questions about certain practices that installers have put in place and ask for our opinions that may be used in determining the actions they’ll take,” says Bonner.

That was the case in 2010 when the province began phasing out surface discharges from ejector systems. OWSIM contributed to the rule changes, which now requires that owners commit to replacing such systems upon the transfer or subdividing of property. While repairs to existing ejector systems are allowed, no new ejector systems will be permitted. There are several exemptions in response to concerns about its impact on rural homeowners. They may now get exemptions if the property is not located in an environmentally sensitive area, is at least 10 acres, complies with other regulatory requirements and does not impact any other property owners.


While there are no pumpers on its current membership roster, OWSIM is beginning to reach out to them because they are an important part of the industry. Manitoba is the only Canadian province that requires holding tanks – rather than distribution fields – for septic systems near many lakes, rivers and streams, and areas with poor soils. The tanks are required to be pumped periodically by a registered waste hauler. Many of the systems serve cottages and second homes in popular vacation areas.

“It is very unique,” says Bonner. “Our association believes it would be to the betterment of the whole industry if the holding tank law was possibly altered to allow a properly designed advanced onsite system.”

There is concern about holding tanks not being pumped properly and effluent making its way to a water body. There is also an issue with the sewage lagoons where septage pumped from holding tanks is taken. Along with the level of treatment for various nutrients that can harm water quality, the lagoons are subject to overflows.

“The lagoon structures have been lacking in some areas,” says Bonner. “In times of high water or a lot of rain, we have had a number of emergency discharges right into the receiving water.” He adds that 2014 was one of the worst years for high water levels. “We’ve seen water levels in our lakes and rivers that are probably 10 to 15 percent higher than we’ve ever seen.”


While owners of holding tanks pay for pumping, there is not always a fee for disposing of the waste in the tax-supported lagoons. Bonner poses a question that is on the minds of many: “Why should our population be made to pay for a certain percentage [that] want to have cottages in these pristine areas?” 

Altering the rule may be difficult. Holding tanks are popular with cottage owners because they are inexpensive, comparatively speaking. A system with a 2,400-gallon holding tank costs about $3,500, while a proper system with a distribution field would cost around $20,000.

“It’s our belief, especially in the case of a second home, that the homeowner should bear the entire cost, including taking care of the septage rather than having it hauled to lagoons that are paid for by all the residents of Manitoba,” says Bonner.

CWS has shown flexibility on the holding tank issue. “They’ve actually considered allowing a few secondary treatment installations designed by our installers to test them out,” he adds. “So they are open to it. As the recreational homes get bigger, so do the flows, and so do the problems that go along with it. We are making inroads.”


Training and certification of installers is done by CWS as often as twice a year, depending on the number of registrants. The session, including a test, costs $1,000 per person, which has increased from $300. Certification attracts more than just onsite professionals.

“There are a lot of individuals who take it, homeowners and quasi-contractors that may do one or two systems, then fade away, but have certification that is good for five years,” says Bonner. Because of that, he says it’s difficult to keep track of the number of active installers.

There is no requirement for continuing education, but OWSIM offers it to increase professionalism of its members.

“Initially, we had very good response,” says Bonner. “It has waned somewhat in the last few years, though we’re always trying to develop new courses to gain their interest. Like all organizations, there is a higher rate of interest in the beginning.”

OWSIM has offered training on such topics as pressure dosing and performing inspections for real estate transfers.

A soils assessment course will be the next training opportunity. “We have very different soils around Manitoba,” says Bonner. “Around Winnipeg we have tight clay soil, out west is sandy soil and there is a lot of bedrock in the east.” And there is the cold weather that impacts system design, especially in the tundra of the northern subarctic region.


While training attendance could be better, membership meetings garner good participation with around 25 people at each. “They are held five or six times a year from November to May,” says OWSIM Treasurer Marie Taplin, the longest-serving board member and one of the people on the original steering committee that incorporated the group in 2006. “We stopped trying to hold meetings during the construction season.”

OWSIM Training Facilitator Rudy Hartfiel says the Member Services Committee has recently added a new twist to those gatherings that is proving popular. “We’ve had suppliers and industry representatives host luncheons. Along with networking, it gives our members a little bit more because they get to see what those businesses do and what they offer.” 


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