“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

T he Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant.

And they have new information that British Columbia’s Local Government Act does not prohibit municipalities from including voting members on commissions who represent non-participating constituents in a service or function.

Last month, residents told the commission that recent efforts to control the odours haven’t been successful and asked that the plant’s bioreactors be covered and that a new equalization basin currently under construction be relocated. They said the EQ basin has created visual pollution and will likely intensify the odour problems.

Lower Curtis Road

At the next commission meeting on May 14, the residents will ask for a commitment on odour standards, a specific odour reporting system and for action on their request for Area B voting representation on the commission.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association, told Decafnation that a second presentation was necessary because “10 minutes is not long enough to address 34 years of abuse.” Delegations to the commission are limited to 10 minutes.

Since the treatment plant opened in 1985, it has emanated strong sewer smells that, due to geography, flow constantly through the Curtis Road neighborhood.

The odours are so bad that the Cape Lazo properties have lost monetary value and residents have been unable to stay in their homes during times when the stink has become unbearable.

Past inaction to address the problem by the sewage commission resulted in a lawsuit, which was won by the Curtis Road residents, that compelled the commision to fix the problem and to compensate homeowners.

But the odour problems continue, partly because past commissions haven’t taken the residents concerns seriously enough, according to the Curtis Road residents. And that’s a governance issue they feel could be addressed by having Area B representation on the commission.

As long as the treatment plant remains in Area B — and there is no plan to ever move it — rural residents believe they should have a voice on the decision-making body.

This same governance issue has surfaced before, most recently over the controversy to patch the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system with a new pumping station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood, which also lies within Area B.

Croteau Beach and Curtis Road residents say that if Courtenay and Comox want to locate infrastructure outside their municipal boundaries, then democratic principles dictate those outer areas should have representation at the decision-making table.

When the governance arose at last month’s sewage commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant said he believes the Local Government Act — the provincial document governing municipalities — prohibited Area B representation, because those rural residents don’t participate in the sewerage service. Area B residents can’t connect to the sewerage system and they do not pay for it.

Steel believes Grant misled the commission because her research and conversations with CVRD staff indicate that changes made to the Local Government Act in 2000 gave municipalities the necessary flexibility to include non-participating voting members on commissions.

She made a Freedom of Information request to the CVRD for the Act’s sections that support Grant’s claim.

It was a bylaw (No. 650) approved by the former Comox Strathcona Regional District board — since split into two boards for the Comox Valley and the Strathcona regions — that established the sewage commission. The CVRD board could change that bylaw.

Steel said the Curtis Road Residents Association might take the issue of Area B representation on the sewage commission to the CVRD board, or they might make presentations at both Courtenay and Comox municipal council meetings.

But first, they are waiting to hear the sewage commission’s response to their April presentation at the upcoming May meeting.

 

 

 

YEAR-OLD REPORT ON GOVERNANCE GAVE NO RECOMMENDATIONS

Last year, the Comox Valley Regional District commissioned a consultant to study governance options for administration and operation of the regional water supply and sewage conveyance and treatment services.

But the report from Leftside Partners Inc. presented to the CVRD board last September made no recommendations. It only suggested some considerations for such a change and encouraged elected officials to discuss it.

Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson described the background for the study in a March 2018 memo to the board:

“Since June 2017, a ‘utilities commission’ concept has been considered to possibly resolve some concerns related to efficiency, accountability and effectiveness for the decision-making processes related to water and sewer services. The proposed project scope, which is described in more detail further in this report, would focus its attention on the water supply system (function no. 300) and sewage treatment service (function no. 335), recognizing that a change in the governance framework may impact just the water service, or the sewer service, or both, depending on the governance project findings and the will of the service participants.”

 

 

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Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

Area B residents want voice on regional Sewage Commission

By George Le Masurier

The problems inherent when several distinct government jurisdictions nearly overlap each other reared its ugly head again at last week’s regional Sewage Commission meeting.

And it’s no coincidence that these issues rise because two larger jurisdictions (Courtenay and Comox) have dumped their effluent problems on a smaller third jurisdiction (Area B), without allowing the latter any formal representation.

Big governments have historically pushed their problems out of town, into less populated rural areas, where they are presumably less noticeable.

But for the residents of Curtis Road, who are downwind from the nearby sewage treatment plant, noxious odour problems are more than just noticeable. The smell of human waste has plagued them for 35 years, forcing some them out of their homes.

And the residents of Croteau Beach, just outside the boundaries of the Town of Comox, took special notice when a previous Sewage Commission planned to build a new pump station in their Area B neighborhood. The plan was fraught with flaws, not the least of which was a threat to residents drinking water wells.

Grant: “A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual”

Croteau Beach residents lobbied for Area B representation on the Sewage Commission at the time. They argued that the principles of democracy demanded it.

No jurisdiction should be allowed to locate infrastructure necessary for a function or service in a separate jurisdiction that derives no benefit from the service and has no effective voice at the decision-making table, they said.

Now, Curtis Road residents are joining in that debate. They, too, want Area B representation on the Sewage Commission. And they have backed that argument up with a detailed history of alleged flagrant disregard for their concerns by three decades of commission members.

And now, new Area B representative Arzeena Hamir has asked the commission to add her as a voting member.

That’s a proposal that didn’t sit well with Comox Councillor Ken Grant.

Grant questioned whether it was legal under the BC Local Government Act to appoint a voting member to a commission from which that proposed members’ constituents do not participate. By that Grant meant that Area B residents don’t pay for the cost of operating the regional Sewage System, nor do they get to use it.

But Grant did not question whether it was ethical for the commission to build a “stinking plant” — as Curtis Road resident Jenny Steel said — next to residents who have no say in the matter.

Still, Grant went further. He said when the Sewage Commission experimented with a non-voting Area B representation to appease Croteau Beach concerns, it was a failure.

“It didn’t matter what we did, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t good enough for the area (Croteau Beach),” he said.

And then Grant called out former Area B representative Rod Nichol.

“A lot of the things (Nichol) said were just not factual,” Grant said. “It made it difficult to come up with a proper decision.”

Decafnation emailed Grant after the meeting to clarify his statements. Was he calling Nichol a liar, who purposely stated untruths? Or did he mean that Nichol was uninformed, that he just didn’t know what he was talking about?

Grant refused to clarify his statements.

Nichol, however, said he stands by any statements he made at the Sewage Commission.

“I did not attend the meeting … so I am not aware of what was said and by whom,” Nichol wrote via email. “If Ken Grant indeed said what you claim, then here are my comments:

“It is easy to chuck sh*t when the other party is not present to defend himself. If “a lot of things the previous director said were simply not factual” why has it taken this long for the allegation to be made? Everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard at those meetings — if I said things that were not factual, why didn’t someone challenge me at the time? I do not know what Ken Grant is allegedly referring to, but I stand by what I said.”

Comox Valley Regional District Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said a governance review is underway that may help the Sewage Commission decide whether they can, or want to add the Area B representative in either a voting or non-voting capacity, or at all.

A motion to include the question of Area B representation on the commission in the governance review was passed by a 4-3 vote split along jurisdictional lines.

All three Courtenay representatives voted in favor of the motion, as did the representative from CFB Comox.

All three Comox representatives — Grant, Maureen Swift and Russ Arnott — voted against it.

 

 

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Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

Rural Comox residents want less odour, more compensation

A lagoon at the Comox Valley wastewater treatment plant on Brent Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated following the April 16 Sewage Commission meeting. It was originally published April 15.

 

Curtis Road residents want Comox, Courtenay and other users of a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood to pay them under a Host Community Compensation agreement.

Speaking for the Curtis Road Residents Association at Tuesday’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting, Jenny Steel said neighbors of the treatment plant have endured 35 years of noxious odors and numerous failed promises to eliminate the smells. The plant opened in 1984.

“And the plant still stinks,” she told commissioners from the two municipalities and CFB Comox.

There are 49 properties between the treatment plant and the Strait of Georgia at Cape Lazo. Many of them were established in the 1930s and still belong to the same families. But the location puts residents in the path of daily off-shore breezes, which pick up odors from the open treatment facilities and blows them through Curtis Road homes.

In a 17-page history of the odor problems sent to commissioners last week, Steel said residents find the stink is so strong that it wakes them up at night. When the sewer smell gets really bad — usually when there’s no wind from the southeast to blow the odors back toward the plant — residents are forced out of their homes because it’s “sickening.”

Previous Sewage Commissions ignored the problem and refused to finance additional remedies, so the residents sued, and won. The Sewage Commission compensated homeowners for reduced property values and rental incomes. There are carriage houses and secondary residences on some properties.

“But the problem hasn’t gone away,” Steel said. “It’s a little better now than last year, and it will probably be a little better next year … but it’s still there.”

British Columbia has no odor control standards. Only the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have established standards.

An air quality study completed in 2016 showed that odors from the Brent Road plant exceeded the Ontario standards up to two kilometers away and that at some Curtis Road homes they exceeded the metric by 10 times.

The sewerage system and treatment plant serves only residents of Courtenay, Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. It is managed for them by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is no representation on the Sewage Commission from Area B.

After Steel presented a history of the problem, the commission voted to request a staff report before responding to the residents’ demands.

The residents want the Sewer Commission to immediately and completely cover its bioreactors to control the odours emitted during the biological process of removing pollutants from the wastewater. They estimate the cost at around $3 million, although the CVRD puts it over $5 million.

Steel also asked the commission to reassess the need for a new equalization basin, or to at least relocate it on the treatment plant’s 35-acre site in the Cape Lazo area.

The removal of trees in about 25 percent of the forested buffer area between the plant and Curtis Road to build the new EQ basin has made the plant visible from residents’ properties, and further reduced their value.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel said the Sewer Commission did not consider the visual stigma created by this new EQ basin “and its effect on our home prices as well as the potential additional odour source.”

The plant uses EQ basins a few times each year when high tides coincide with an increased volume of liquid entering the plant due to heavy rainfalls, according to Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose.

He said that because treated wastewater flows by gravity from the plant to the outfall in the Strait of Georgia off Point Holmes, they must store partially treated wastewater for “several hours on a handful of days” during the late fall and early winter.

The Curtis Road residents also want the Sewer Commission to sign a Host Community Benefit Agreement to compensate homeowners until the odour problem is resolved and a visual screen is restored.

In an email to Decafnation, Steel described a Host Community agreement.

“The concept … is to balance the impacts a local community may experience in hosting a waste management facility against the advantages received by the users of the facilities from other communities,” she said.

Steel pointed to the $9 million agreement between the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Committee and the Village of Cumberland in 2013 for hosting the North Island landfill within their municipal boundaries.

The Capital Regional District also signed a Host Community Compensation agreement with Esquimalt for locating that region’s new sewage treatment plant.

Steel said she was happy with today’s meeting. 

“I was delighted  that we had a packed house,” she told Decafnation. “The sewage commission members were engaged and respectful, plus it seemed that most had read our report.   

“We’ll obviously know more when we receive their response next month.”

 

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More sewage
Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Over the last six months, members of a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee have developed a long list of new options for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The committee narrowed those conveyance options down to a short-list of three at its March 22 meeting. They plan to present their preferred conveyance routes to the Sewer Commission in May or June, or after consultations conclude with the K’omoks First Nation.

All three options involve rerouting the sewerage system’s pipes overland. That means there will be no sewage-carrying pipes left in the estuary. The commission’s previous plan relied on aging pipes located in the estuary, along Comox Harbor and Point Holmes beaches.

And, unlike the previous sewage master plan, none of the short-listed options require a new high risk in-line pump station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

Opposition from Croteau residents was a major contributing factor in the development of the new Liquid Waste Management Plan. But they are pleased with the new plans.

“This process has been everything an open community process should be,” Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and committee alternate, told Decafnation. “It is a complete opposite experience from the last plan.”

Kris LaRose, senior manager of water and wastewater services for the Comox Valley Regional District, said the process is following guidelines mandated by the provincial government, which will ultimately review and approve the management plan.

Sewer route short list

The option known as “2A” would pump sewage directly from the Courtenay pump station over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. This option will require a new pump station in the Town of Comox, within about 300 meters of the existing Jane Place pump station.

The 2A option mitigates the environmental and archaeological risks of having sewage pipes in the estuary and on the Comox peninsula foreshore. This overland route maximizes accessibility to all pipes and structures for maintenance. It involves two large pump stations and the upgrade of Courtenay and Jane Place facilities.

In an option known as “4A,” sewage from Courtenay would be pumped directly to the treatment plant via a northern overland route across the Courtenay flats, rising up and crossing McDonald Road and skirting the northern boundaries of the Town of Comox. Sewage from Comox would continue to pump directly from Jane Place to the treatment plant

The committee collapsed three separate plans for tunnelling under Comox Hill and Lazo Road into a single option on the short list. But all three will be studied separately.

One option proposes tunnelling under both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill, and the other two would tunnel under only Lazo Road hill.

The differences among the three tunnelling options revolve around how the Comox Jane Place pump station would tie into the main line and the degree of upgrades required for the Jane Place pumps.

Evaluating the options

All members of the Joint Technical and Public Advisory Committee contacted by Decafnation praised LaRose and facilitator Allison Habkirk, who also served as the committee chair, for creating a successful process.

Habkirk, a three-term mayor and councillor for Central Saanich, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, and a registered town planner at her own firm.

The first three committee meetings focused exclusively on goals and the evaluation methodology through which the options were eventually viewed.

“It was a rigorous process with a strong consultation component,” LaRose said.

The group agreed on five metrics: social benefits, environment factors, technical considerations, affordability and economic benefits.

The technical and public members of the committee differed in the weighting to give each of the five metrics, but they compromised at 17 percent for social benefits, 18 percent for environmental, 45 percent on technical, 18 percent on affordability and two percent on economic benefits.

Paul Nash, of Sechelt, is assisting Habkirk and the committee as the management plan’s project coordinator. Nash was the project manager for Schelt’s innovative Water Recovery Center, and is currently consulting with the Village of Cumberland on the renovation of its wastewater treatment facility.

Walt Bayless, an engineer with the global company WSP, which recently acquired the Canadian firm, Opus International, is the consultant on the project.

Committee comments

The short-list of conveyance options going forward for further detailed study are the best possible options from the perspective of environmental protection, according to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, who is representing the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership on the committee.

“Conveyance of raw sewage through and within the K’omoks estuary is inherently risky to the health of our marine environment both within the K’omoks estuary itself and to the greater Baynes Sound ecosystem,” Ennis told Decafnation. “While this route represents the current status quo, we are thrilled to see that it will not be included as an option going forward as the system is upgraded to meet future demand.”

Ennis said the Conservation Partnership has been pleased with the “transparent and inclusive democratic process associated with the LWMP.” He particularly noted the broad range of interests represented and the CVRD’s efforts to engage the general public.

“We feel that on the topic of conveyance, the CVRD’s LWMP process finds the right balance between cost-effectiveness, the avoidance of negative social impacts, and environmental protection,” he said.

Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, who represented the city on the LWMP advisory committee said he’s proud to be part of the planning.

“I have been truly impressed by this process,” Cole-Hamilton said. “It brings together such a large and diverse group of people – politicians, community members, KFN leaders, and sewage experts who’ve made this their life’s work.”

Croteau Beach resident Aitken praised the process for its organization and communications.

“They laid out the process at the beginning and they did exactly what they said they would do,” Aitken said. “It was so refreshing.”

Next steps

If the sewer commission approves the Technical and Public advisory committee’s short list of options, the WSP consultants will study each of them in-depth. Then the committee will review WSP’s findings and make a final recommendation to the sewer commission sometime this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS A LIQUID WASTE MANAGEMENT PLAN?

The liquid waste management plan process is used by local governments in BC to develop strategies for managing sewer services. It includes the collection/review of existing information, development of options for future services, identification of a preferred option, completion of required studies and assessments and development of financial and implementation plans. The plan is ultimately submitted to the provincial government for review and consideration for approval.

Public engagement is key to the planning process. Public input will be collected online and through public events, which will be posted on this page. Residents of Courtenay and Comox are encouraged to weigh in with feedback, to help the CVRD develop a plan that works best for the community.

 

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Cumberland gets $5.7 million for sewage plant upgrade

Village of Cumberland sewage lagoons will soon get an upgrade  | Photo by George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

The Village of Cumberland is well on its way to completing an overdue upgrade to its wastewater treatment plant thanks to the passage of a referendum this fall and $5.7 million from the federal Green Municipal Fund.

The money comes as a grant of $750,000 and a low-interest loan of $5 million.

Cumberland has been out of compliance with BC Ministry of Environment treatment standards for years and has been threatened with heavy fines for continued non-compliance. But the village needed public approval to incur debt for the project, and government funding, in order to get the upgrade underway.

The Green Municipal Fund grant announced this week means the village can start the preliminary stages of the project.

Cumberland voters approved a referendum in the Oct. 20 municipal elections allowing the Village to borrow up to $4.4 million for the sewage project. The whole project was estimated to cost $9.7 million.

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Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Comox Valley speaks out about how to move and treat our poop

Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Considering the potential property tax implications and long-term environmental impacts of reimagining the Comox Valley Sewer System, there was relatively small group of people at the first of two public consultation workshops.

About 30 people came out to hear Kris La Rose, senior manager of water/wastewater services at the Comox Valley Regional District, describe the process for redesigning the sewerage system to meet the needs of a growing population and a changing climate for the next 50 years.

At least a third of the audience at the Sannd Trap Bar N Grill at the Comox Golf Club were residents of Area B and Courtenay. Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift also attended.

People can also provide input through an online version of the survey completed by workshop participants.

The Comox Valley Sewer Service (CVSS) serves the City of Courtenay, Town of Comox, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. Residents of Area A, B and C rural electoral areas manage their own wastewater with about 10,000 private septic systems.

La Rose said a new Liquid Waste Management Plan is needed to decide three issues: how best to move sewage to the treatment plant on Brent Road, in Area B; What level of treatment should be applied; and, whether the plan should include resource recovery — reclaiming water for purposes such as irrigation purposes or recharging aquifers.

Separate Public Advisory and Technical committees will consider public input in their deliberations and ultimate recommendations to the Sewage Commission, which will make a decision next summer.

A new plan is necessary for several reasons. The main sewer pipe, called the forcemain, that moves wastewater from the main pump stations to the treatment plant, is 36 years old. It runs through the K’omoks Estuary, under Comox Harbour and Goose Spit, then along the beach below the Willemar Bluffs at Point Holmes before turning inland a short distance to the plant at the end of Brent Road.

Rip rap installed to halt erosion of the bluffs has changed the beach and exposed a section of the forcemain, which a study last year showed was in serviceable condition for the short-term, but still presents a long-term risk. More frequent and intense winter storms put all sections of the forcemain in the foreshore at risk.

The system’s major pump stations are also operating at capacity and need to be upgraded. Expectations have changed about how sewage should be treated and the cleanliness of the effluent discharged into the Strait of Georgia.

A previous plan to replace only the Willemar Bluffs section of the forcemain and build a new pump station in Area B that would continue to receive wastewater pumped through the estuary and harbour was abandoned last year.

The cost had been underestimated by 50 percent and would have created a single point of failure for the whole system. It also had the potential to put shallow wells in the Croteau Beach neighborhood at risk. The CVRD was able to press pause and rethink a more comprehensive plan because with the forcemain in better condition than previously thought, there was less urgency.

La Rose said the plan would also consider treatment upgrade, mostly because the current plant reaches its capacity during major winter rainfalls. Stormwater infiltrates the system and boosts volumes by nearly 4 times over summer levels.

Finally, the plan will consider ways to extract resource benefits from the treatment process. Other communities treat the wastewater to a quality enabling its use for irrigation of farms and golf courses, or to reinject water back into the ground.

Some communities clean the water to potable standards, and flow it back into their drinking water systems.

The workshop was repeated in Courtenay, and there will be further opportunities for public input in the coming months.

 

HISTORY OF SEWAGE TREATMENT IN THE COMOX VALLEY PRIOR TO 1984

 

Courtenay — Primary treatment at lagoon near airpark. Discharged into estuary, and would overflow, releasing raw sewage into the estuary.

Comox — Discharged untreated sewage into estuary via pipe that crossed Goose Spit toward Denman Island.

CFB Comox — Primary treatment at a lagoon near the YQQ airport. Discharged into the Queen’s Ditch, which ran at a shallow decline and emptied offshore at Point Holmes.

 

A GLOSSARY

Advanced Primary Treatment — The use of special additives to raw wastewater to cause flocculation or clumping to help settling
before the primary treatment such as screening.

Dewatered Sludge Cake — The sludge after dewatering that is cake like, compressed. The lower the water content the better
for wastewater treatment purposes.

Digestion — The breaking down of sludge and other waste biologically by microorganisms. Results in byproducts such as methane gas, carbon dioxide, sludge solids and water. Aerobic digestion requires oxygen, anaerobic digestion the absence of oxygen.

Effluent — The final output flow of a wastewater treatment plant.

Flocculation — The process whereby a chemical or other substance is added to wastewater to trap or attract the particulate suspended solids into clusters or clumps of floc or flocculent, wooly looking masses.

Influent Screens — Screens used to remove large inorganic solids from the waste stream.

Natural Systems — Wastewater treatment systems usually biological with a minimum of mechanical components or processes, for example, constructed wetlands.

Primary Wastewater Treatment — The first process usually associated with municipal wastewater treatment to remove the large
inorganic solids and settle out sand and grit.

Reclaimed Water — Reusable wastewater from wastewater treatment such as tertiary treatment of wastewater in biological and other systems.

Secondary Wastewater Treatment — Second biological process of digestion with bacteria

Sewerage — A system of sewers; the removal of waste materials by means of a sewer system.
 
Tertiary Treatment — The use of filtration to remove microscopic particles from wastewater that has already been
treated to a Secondary Level. Anthracite coal is the filter medium used by the MWWD.

Turbidity — A measure of how clear water is in Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU), invisible to the average naked eye until readings in excess of 100 are reached, typically determined by shining light through a sample placed in a turbidimeter.

Ultraviolet Disinfection (UV) — The use of ultraviolet light to kills bacteria and other microorganisms in water and wastewater.
Typically a final treatment step.

Wastewater — Wastewater is “used” water, the water leftover after its use in numerous application such as industrial, agricultural, municipal, domestic and on.