• Joshua Baker


Avonlea Badlands, Tourism Saskatchewan
Avonlea Case study
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Executive Summary

The purpose of this study is to gain a greater understanding of community adaptations and best management practices with regards to water management and climate change and to explore the effectiveness and replicability of the use of engineered wetlands as opposed to a traditional effluent treatment plants in small towns and villages of Canada. Research methods used in this study were primarily qualitative in nature. Data for the case is based on primarily interviews, both in person and over the phone, and email correspondence with former and current officials of the Village of Avonlea, members of the Moose Jaw Watershed Stewards and academics. These interviews and correspondence were supplemented by a literature review of official documents regarding the project, which were obtained and supplied by the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards (MJWSS) and the Water Security Agency (WSA).

The Constructed Wetland project in Avonlea, Saskatchewan is a community driven project to address the wastewater treatment problems that the village had been experiencing since the 1970’s. The Village of Avonlea was operating with a single cell effluent lagoon, although regulations required a two-cell effluent lagoon for a municipality. Eventually the Village of Avonlea was given special permission to operate an interim single cell lagoon under very strict guidelines, until the construction of the wetland, brought the municipality into compliance with provincial regulations.

In 2011, the village commissioned the construction of the wetland. MJWSS managed the project and matching funding was acquired from the Federal Building Canada Fund. The community was directly involved in the project and local school children participated by planning the vegetation in the constructed wetland.

Key Messages

  • Constructed wetlands are a cost effective waste-water-solution for smaller communities where the cost of traditional water treatment is prohibitive

  • Utilizing natural systems that may already be in place is to the advantage of local communities.

  • The involvement of the local school, and getting the kids involved increased public participation, public interest and involvement.

  • Employing the help of non-profit organizations to assist in getting the job done – municipal governments may not always have time or resources to do everything at the same time, employing the assistance of groups like the MJRWSS can ensure that things get done smoothly and efficiently.


This report using a community case studies approach details the how the community of village Avonlea adopted a “best” management practice and engaged in adaptive management for sustainable water and wastewater management. . This report focuses on the community of Avonlea, a small village 78 kilometers southwest of Regina, the capital city of SK province and having a population of 393, and the constructed wetland that has been built to treat urban runoff and sewage. This constructed wetland is a community driven project to address the wastewater treatment problems commissioned in 2011, that were being managed by single cell effluent lagoon earlier. This double cell lagoon was managed by MJWSS along with the local community.

Key Concept Clarification

  • MJRWSS – Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards

  • Constructed wetland – a human built wetland or marsh

  • Effluent lagoon – a shallow lagoon meant to store and evaporate urban and industrial sewage


The qualitative study was conducted between July and September of 2019 and consisted of four interviews with various individuals, both members of the community and other informants familiar with water management or environmental issues. These interviews were supported by a review of documents provided by the Water Security Agency (formerly the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority) along with email correspondence with Watershed Authority and the Avonlea Municipality.


Avonlea is a small village1 located 78 kilometers southwest of the city of Regina, SK2 .

Map 1 of Avonlea

The Village of Avonlea is located in Moosejaw watershed, one of the 14 watersheds that SK is composed of. According to the Saskatchewan Municipal Directory (as of March 2018) it has a population of 393 persons.

Map 2 of Avonlea watershed

Figure 1: Population trend of Avonlea/Source- Townfolio, Statistics Canada 2017

The population of SK has been constant and is in fact decreasing, as per Census, changing from 412 in 2001 to 393 in 2016.

Figure 2- Labor Force by Industry Source: Townfolio, Statistics Canada. 2017

The Tax assessment of the village is $50,047,400. 75% of the labor force of the village is occupied in agriculture, retail and public administration (Figure2).

Figure 3-Household Income Source: Townfolio, Statistics Canada. 2017

The household income of Avonlea residents lies between 60-99 K (50%) while 35% earn almost 150K (Figure 3). In terms of climate, the average temperature in Avonlea shows high variability specially in the month of March (48 degrees C), and the lowest in December (10 degrees C) (Figure 4).

Figure 4- Average Temperature Source: Townfolio, Statistics Canada. 2017

The average rainfall is highest in month of June, August and September (Figure 5) while the village experiences snowfall almost all months of year which is highest in January, December, and March (Figure 6).

Figure 5: Average Rainfall Source: Townfolio, Statistics Canada. 2017

Figure 6: Average Snowfall Source: Townfolio, Statistics Canada. 2017

Waste Water Treatment Adaptation

Avonlea was facing a waste water treatment problem. The adaptation that Avonlea took was building an effluent wetland in addition to an effluent lagoon, to clean sewage before it was to be drained into a nearby creek.

The reason behind the development of this project is twofold. One is that the village wanted to expand with a new subdivision (WTPO 0002, 2019). The second reason is that the village had been out of compliance with since the 1970’s and due to this, “the village was facing fines and closure” (WS1, 2019).

In 1999, a notice and permit were issued by the Province to Avonlea regarding the single cell lagoon that they had at the time. This letter stated that the Village of Avonlea (henceforth referred to as the Village), was not in compliance with regulations, and that they needed to upgrade the existing lagoon (Wilson, 1999).

According to Wilson (1999), the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment had been attempting to get information regarding the effects of the single cell lagoons runoff on the surrounding environment since 1995 but was not successful. It was at this point that the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment issued a permit to continue with the operation of a single cell lagoon under strict rules so that they could measure the effect it was having on the environment in the surrounding area. The terms of this permit mandated that the Village maintain a strict record keeping policy and keep a watch on the effluent during the two years of its operation and that the effluent is measured at a variety of locations including downstream (Wilson, 1999).

In 2006, an assessment was undertaken by a consulting firm called Epec Consulting, a Regina based firm which undertake municipal, transportation and water resources engineering projects, as well as planning, recreational, and land development projects . This assessment outlined the main problems that the Village was facing as that the current lagoon was too small to meet the environmental regulations in place for the village’s population. The assessment examined options such as a sewage treatment station but did not recommend them due to the cost of the plant and the equipment it would have required (Epec Consulting, 2006). A second lagoon cell was proposed as a cost-effective alternative for waste water treatment, which according to the assessment would cost approximately $326,000 (Epec Consulting, 2006).

In 2009, the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards, the non-profit, charitable, environmental organization that help protect waters in the Moose Jaw River Watershed approached the village with the idea of a constructed wetland to solve their problem (WS1, 2019) (Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, 2006).

Most small communities operate municipal sewage treatment facilities which utilize a biological treatment system called a facultative lagoon. A facultative lagoon is a type of treatment where both anaerobic and aerobic bacteria are present. Guidelines for facultative lagoons are used as indicators of treatment effectiveness. Hence, the effluent does not have to meet guidelines unless the operating permit specifically states this (Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, 2006). Conventional wastewater treatment plants involve large capital investments and operating costs. This is the reason that these systems are not a good solution for small villages as these cannot afford such expensive conventional treatment systems. Constructed wetlands are becoming popular as an effective and lowcost alternative for treatment of septic effluents in small villages. Such systems have certain advantages over the conventional treatment systems as: they can be established in the same place as where the wastewater is produced; they can be maintained by relatively untrained personnel; and they have relatively lower-energy requirements and are low-cost systems.

Constructed wetlands (CW) are designed as natural filter areas for the treatment of water-transported pollutants have been extensively used in Europe and North America for creating landfill leachate or sewage and wastewater management systems. This process allows for water purification before discharge into rivers (Grisey, Laffray, Contoz, Cavalli, Mudry and Aleya, 2012). Such wetlands consist of a shallow depression in the ground with a level bottom. The flow is controlled in constructed wetlands so the water is spread evenly among the wetland plants. In natural wetlands, 90% of the water may flow through small channels. Controlling the flow allows natural processes to occur and clean the wastewater more efficiently. Wastewater flows through a pipe from a septic tank or other type of primary wastewater treatment system into the constructed wetland. Wastewater can either flow on top of the existing soil surface or through a porous medium such as gravel subsurface. Flow is distributed evenly across the width of the wetland cell. A waterproof liner is used on the sides and bottom of the cell to prevent leaks and assure adequate water for the wetland plants. This cell is planted with wetland plants such as cattails and bulrushes. Roots and stems of the plants form a dense mat. Here chemical, biological, and physical processes occur to treat the wastewater. Water levels are controlled in both surface and subsurface systems. In subsurface systems, the normal water level is kept 1 inch below a gravel surface which improves treatment and controls mosquitoes. A second cell may be added for more treatment.

As wastewaters flow through the system, this allows the suspended solids and trace metals to settle and are filtered. Plants and organic material also absorb trace metals. Organisms that live in water, on rocks, in soil, and on stems and roots of wetland plants use these organic materials and nutrients as food. Plants provide much of the oxygen needed by the organisms to live and grow. Plant roots play an important role in keeping the rocks or soil loose so that water can flow through easily.

After this, Tetres Consulting, a Canadian environmental consulting company7 was commissioned to do a study for the creation of a CW in Avonlea. The company was chosen because it had previously constructed a wetland in Roblin Manitoba. in 1997. (Tetres Consulting, 2009). The initial study examined if a wetland would be possible in Avonlea given the location of the current lagoon. One of Tetres’ main goals was community involvement, as it had been in the case of their work with Roblin Manitoba (Tetres Consulting, 2009). The Ministry of Environment had a meeting with Tetres and gave the project the green light on the conditions that it met the guidelines of section 16 of the Water Regulations Act of 2002 (Lichtenwald, 2009). Outlined in the follow up to said meeting, the Ministry of Environment outlined specific studies that would need to be conducted: surface quality and downstream use studies, which re-outlined in EPB 356 and section 4.9.4 of guidelines for sewage works design EPB 203 respectively (Lichtenwald, 2009). Tetres only performed the initial study, however, they were not involved with the building of the lagoon as they were bought by Stantec is an international professional services company in the design and consulting industry, with offices in 6 continent who ultimately completed the project. During the building of the lagoon, Stantec used as much community involvement as was feasible such as including having come from the local school to actually plant the bulrushes and cattails (WTPO 0002, 2019).

Cattails and bulrushes are different herbs that can grow together in a facultative lagoon (Gerardi and Lytle, 2015). Cattails and bulrushes are important plants in the food chain. The submerged portion of bulrushes also provides habitats for numerous microorganisms, and waterfowl and muskrats consume the fruit. Cattails and bulrushes are different herbs that can grow together in a facultative lagoon. Community involvement was done by holding town halls and meetings regarding the project, this was to keep the elderly involved as well as the younger individuals, who were also informed through social media (RTO, 2019).

The Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards is a community based, non-profit organization that was founded in 2006; which assists in the acquisition of funds, planning, and implementation of environmental projects, best management practices and adaptations that relate to water involving the Moose Jaw river (WS 2&3, 2019). Their mandate is source Water Protection, the prevention of pollution and the management of factors and activities that may threaten water quality and quantity of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams and groundwater .

The MJRWSS is also largely involved in providing education to the public about various water issues and water related topics. According to the individuals that were interviewed from the MJRWSS, the types of project that they are involved in is very spread out and varies to a large degree or as she put it “it depends on what comes our way” (WS 2&3, 2019).With regards to the Avonlea Wetland project, the MJRWSS was involved in from the very beginning, providing the initial idea to the town council, assisting in the acquisition of funds from various sources, and involving the community directly in the project.

According to the MSRRJW officials a large volume of their activities thatt they do is based around agriculture and working with the Ministry of Agriculture (WS 2&3, 2019). With this, they largely work directly with farmers and communities hosting workshops, doing technical services and funding various services and projects (WS 2&3, 2019). It was the MJRWSS that involved the school at Avonlea in the planting of the bulrushes for the wetland.

Why Cattails and Bulrushes?

The science involved in the working of the effluent lagoon has to do with nature of plants that are planted in the lagoon, in this case the bulrushes. Cattails ( Typha ) are wetland herbs having long, slender, grass‐like stalks that typically grow 5–10 ft in height and have 1‐ to 1.5‐in. sword‐shaped leaves. Bulrushes are also known as tale, wood grass, and rat grass. They are annual or perennial plants that grow as tall as 10 ft. They have sturdy stems with narrow sword‐shaped leaves that usually emerge from below the water surface .

According to WTPO, the bulrushes and various other wetland plants use the organic matter in the runoff for nutrients to survive and thrive. What isleft over water water that drains into the creek (2019). The overall effectiveness of this process is completely dependent on the type of plant that has been selected (Ribadiya & Mehta, 2014).

The process of how these systems work is as follows-The plant within the constructed wetland is a critical component for the treatment process. The type of macrophyte chosen will greately influence the efficiency and quality of wastewater. Plants provide an environment for microbes to live, they oxygenate the wastewater, providing nutrients for the microbes to survive, they stabilize the soil and they also partake in the reduction of nutrients. Reed/constructed wetland bed treatment system utilizes the active treatment capabilities of soil to biologically treat effluents such as sewage, industrial wastewater, runoff and leachates. Reed beds are suitable for treatment of organic contaminants either natural or synthetic and some inorganic contaminants are also withheld or converted to safe products within the substrate of the reed bed system (Ribadiya & Mehta, 2014).


The total cost of the project was to be $236,500 according to the Canadian Government Infrastructure website, this is the cost as per year when the project was starting in 2009 (TO, 2019). The total cost of the project was reevaluated two additional times: in January of 2011 to $501,424 and again in October of 2011 to $650,000 (TO, 2019).The total cost of the project at completion was $1,067,785 (TO, 2019). The cost breakdown, according to the earliest estimates of the project, as seen in in Table 1 outlines construction, design and engineering fees, environmental surveying fees, as well as material costs, as well as leaves in a contingency cost. The Village of Avonlea, the Federal government, the MJWSS, and Farm Credit Canada collectively provided the project funding (WS1).

Table 1 - Construction Cost for Wetland

Before the wetland was thought of the Village looked into the possibility of doing a full sewage treatment plant. Epec consulting the consulting firm examined the possibility of that compared to the expansion of the lagoon system, which would have required a lift station and required to be able to handle four times the daily flow according to Epec (2006), and thus would have proven too expensive for the size of community.v While we do not have information available on the cost of a conventional waste water treatment plant for this size of a community, it maybe useful to know that a conventional wastewater treatment plant in the city of Regina (population 214, 613 as per 2016 census) which treats about 70 million litre of sewage has costed 175,00,00,000 CAD (CBC News, 2016).

The Research Process

The research process for this case study was a series of in-person interviews accompanied by a phone interview (totaling 4 interviews) and several email correspondences which was supplemented by a literary review of a number of documents pertaining to the wetland project. These documents were obtained by the watershed association. The individuals interviewed were the water treatment plant operator in the Village of Avonlea, a retired town official who was involved with the wetland project, an economist who specializes in environmental issues at the University of Regina, and members of the Moose Jaw Watershed Stewards. In addition to these, a current member of the Avonlea Village office, as well as, a member of the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards was contacted. This member of the Watershed group was directly involved with the planning, lobbying and construction of the Avonlea wetland. Interviewees and individuals contacted were selected because of their position in the Village of Avonlea, or the Moose Jaw Watershed Stewards and because they were often directly involved in the CW project. Those not directly involved in the project were selected based on expertise in their field in relation to this project. The table below lists all of the individuals interviewed or contacted by email, by title, and the code that they are referenced by in order of when they were contacted.

Table 2

Chronology of Events

  • Avonlea only had a single cell drainage lagoon until 2010, which has not been meeting the environmental standards since 1970’s.

  • The Village of Avonlea had been “out of compliance” with regulations since the 1970’s (WS1, 2019) Out of compliance meant that the Village of Avonlea was operating with a single cell effluent lagoon, and the regulations mandated that a two celled lagoon was the standard. Due to this, the village faced possible fines and closure (WS1, 2019).

  • The Village of Avonlea had received a permit to expand in 1999 (Wilson, 1999).

  • Within this permit was the permission to operate a single cell lagoon system Avonlea had not responded to SERMs concerns or provided the information that they had been requesting since 1995 (Wilson, 1999).

  • The Village of Avonlea was given permission in the late 1990’s by to operate a single cell lagoon with strict guidelines, which were adhered to (RTO, 2019).

  • In 2006 a survey was done by Epec Consulting outlining the possibility of a second cell for the lagoon or a sewage treatment plant. (Epic Consulting, 2006). Epec Finds, that the he treatment plant would be too expensive compared to the addition of a second lagoon cell (Epec Consulting, 2006). Epec outlines the issue of single cell sewage lagoons as not being able to meet the village’s needs (2006).

  • In 2009, a second consulting agency called Tetres Consulting was brought in to weight the possibility of a constructed wetland system to treat effluent before draining it into the adjacent stream (Tetres, 2009).

  • Tetres was chosen due to the work they did in Robin Manitoba on a similar project (Tetres, 2009).

  • Tetres was bought by Stantec Engineering and as a result Stantec did the construction of the wetland.

  • Sask Environment gave the project the green light in 2009 so long as it met the appropriate regulations (Lichtenwald, 2009).

  • The wetland was commissioned in 2011 (WTPO 0002, 2019).


Main Problem

The main problem is that the existing single cell lagoon did not meet the environmental regulations put out by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. The problem was identified as early as the 1970’s, according to WS1 and was identified by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment (2019). The Village faced fines and possible closure of their infrastructure (WS1, 2019) and would not be able to expand with a new subdivision until the sewage treatment infrastructure had been updated (RTO, 2019).

How the community was impacted by this problem

The existing infrastructure was not suited to have a community of that size using it and it would have been shut down entirely by the Ministry of Environment if it was not updated to meet the standards that were in place (WS1). The Village also wanted to build a new subdivision but could not develop the area until the wastewater infrastructure was updated (WTPO 0002, 2019). The alternative to the second lagoon and effluent wetland would have been a traditional wastewater treatment plant equipped with a lift station. This alternative would have been simply too costly for the town and includes higher operational cost in the long-run compared to the CW.

Who was involved? The institutional capital

In this particular case, six main parties were involved in the conceptualization, building and funding of the project: the Village of Avonlea, Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards, Building Canada Fund (Federal Government), TD Friends of the Environment, PFRA and Farm Credit Canada (WS1). MJRWSS and the Village lead the project (WS1). Despite the many stakeholders involved, the project also had strong community involvement, specially the involvement of the children. Provided by WS1, below is a breakdown of how each group was involved with the project:

  • The Village of Avonlea - approved the project and provided matching funds to complete the project.

  • Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards - provided technical support and secured funding through the Building Canada Fund to match 50% of the project costs of the engineered constructed wetland. They also managed the project.

  • Building Canada Fund - The federal government approved to match 50% of the costs of the constructed wetland project.