The Vancouver Convention Centre and BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) are proud to employ a dedicated team of diverse professionals who work to bring leading global events and meetings to our province. With our Team Meeting series, we want to highlight the people who help us shine on the local and world stage.
We’ve all learned about the importance of conserving water in our homes. Clean water is a limited resource, after all. So whether it’s remembering to turn off the taps or taking shorter showers, anything you can do to reduce water usage and waste goes a long way.
Now imagine applying that mindset to a convention centre with 466,500 ft2 of function space.
That’s what Bruce Caister, Blackwater Treatment Plant Operator here at the Vancouver Convention Centre, has been focused on for nine years while managing our unique Blackwater Treatment Plant.
As the world’s first double LEED® Platinum certified convention centre, our team and facility are committed to global leadership in sustainability and ensuring our facility is as ‘green’ as it can be – from building design to the materials we purchase to the water we consume. And through our Blackwater Treatment Plant run by Bruce and his colleague, the Convention Centre is able to take blackwater (also referred to as 'wastewater') and recycle it for non-potable purposes – re-using in our washrooms, irrigating our living roof and more.
Bruce says that the system not only saves “an awful lot of freshwater” (approximately 1,815,962 litres per year, in fact), but importantly also demonstrates that buildings even as large and complex as the Vancouver Convention Centre can recycle and conserve its wastewater for greater extended use.
1. What does a typical day look like for you as our wastewater Treatment Plant Operator?
A typical day starts with checking finished water quality, which is the water fed back into the facility’s non-potable water system. Next I check on system treatment processes and determine the demands on the plant for the day.
From there, I conduct equipment inspections to ensure all is operating as it should followed by routine maintenance and housekeeping.
Lastly, there’s daily data compilations and weekly water samples to be taken for lab analysis.
2. Can you describe the area that you work in? How large is your team?
The Blackwater Treatment Plant is very much an industrial type setting. It’s noisy and it’s also hot - especially in the summer months thanks to all the mechanical components generating noise and heat.
As for resources, it’s just myself and my assistant Saeed.
3. In simple terms, could you describe the process of how water is ‘recycled’ through the plant?
In a nutshell, wastewater from every washroom and other water sources throughout the facility are sent to the Plant and its nutrients are digested through a biological process, filtered and disinfested with liquid chlorine.
To elaborate, the raw wastewater treatment process begins in two large tanks, or bio-reactors. Each one is divided into two separate chambers where two types of bacteria are present that consume and remove the ammonium nitrates present in raw sewage. In the first chamber of each of these tanks, a low oxygen or anaerobic bacteria is there to consume the ammonia nutrient. From those first chambers, the wastewater then flows to the aerated side where the oxygen-tolerant bacteria will then consume the nitrogen nutrient.
The end result is water that, at times, is hard to differentiate from tap water. Other times, due to heavy demand, the water can have a slight ‘organic’ colour.
4. Can you talk about the benefit of maintaining our own Blackwater Treatment Plant within the facility?
The obvious benefit is the savings in domestic water consumption. There is such an awareness of our natural resources now, and treatment plants of this nature are becoming much more common (including a part of municipal planning).
Even the term “Wastewater Treatment” is being replaced with “Bio Recycling” as more and more, governments are pushing for the general public’s acceptance of wastewater as a reusable resource.
5. What is unique about running a Blackwater Treatment Plant within a convention centre?
Because the Convention Centre’s wastewater is recycled and reused, our Treatment Plant attracts significant attention from industry professionals, university students and the general public. Thankfully that attention has always been immensely positive with the impact that our plant has and how it contributes to our sustainability goals.
That's somewhat unique, as in years past it was not uncommon for similar types of treatment plants to receive unfavorable attention due to often being located near residential areas and the output of odor and noise that can sometimes come with them.
So it's great to have our plant situated within the Convention Centre itself, avoiding those issues altogether and allowing the benefits of our work to shine.
6. Lastly, to switch gears: What is your favourite movie?
That’s a tough one, but I’d say it’s a Robert Redford movie from 2013 called “All is Lost”. Why? It shows how resourcefulness and a lifetime of experience comes into play when least expected and needed most.