The Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade is facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in the health of the Salish Sea and adjacent communities.

Fraser Riverkeeper participated in a public consultation process regarding proposed upgrades at Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant Project, and Fraser Riverkeeper submitted comments in response to Metro Vancouver’s request for feedback from stakeholders, First Nations, and the public on the current design concept that was presented during previous engagement. 

This marks a critical step in the stakeholder engagement process as we have the opportunity to influence and shape the future of sewage management as well as the water quality and ecosystem health of the Salish Sea for decades to come.  

While we were, and remain, encouraged by Metro Vancouver’s announcement last year that the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, after 57 years of functioning as a rudimentary primary treatment facility, would be upgraded to a tertiary plant, we have some concerns to address and feedback to offer.


Geomap depicting the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant (located at the pin) in reference to the Metropolitan Vancouver area and the Fraser River. Image courtesy of Canadian Geoscience Education Network (1997). Click here to access the legend.

Four Years Behind Schedule

The federal government requires that by 2030, wastewater treatment plants reach a minimum of secondary treatment to remove 90% of contaminants and 95% of conventional pollutants. 

Metro Vancouver has announced that its committed timeline is four years after the 2030 regulatory deadline for secondary treatment, 2034.  

The primary treated sewage released into the Georgia Strait impacts water quality in vital salmon and orca habitat. Further delays must be avoided as discharges of deleterious substances into fish-bearing habitat further damages the health of the Salish Sea with each passing day.  


Final stages design concept for the upgrades. Current as of October 21st, 2021. Image courtesy of Metro Vancouver.

“True” Tertiary Treatment Technology Should be Implemented

Tertiary treatment provides that next level of treatment, removing up to 99.9% of all contaminants including microplastics and pharmaceuticals that both negatively impact aquatic wildlife.  Fraser Riverkeeper has been pushing for a true tertiary treatment system, complete with the most protective technologies best for the receiving environment, since learning of those plans, and submitted comments in October 2020 in support of a true tertiary plant upgrade, one that has the potential to be truly protective of water quality and fish habitat. Metro Vancouver should ensure the most protective and effective of tertiary treatment methods are adopted to protect the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. 


Above ground tanks holding wastewater that has yet to be treated. Image courtesy of Metro Vancouver.

Ballooning Cost

The cost of the project has now multiplied by more than five times since its initial approved budget of $1.9 billion due to a series of unforeseen circumstances. In a report published in the summer of 2020, it was made clear that 2 billion wasn't going to cut it, but the reasons for the increase are things that should have been addressed before the Metro Vancouver Board signed off on the budget in July of 2020. Going forward, we encourage Metro Vancouver to ensure that updates to the budget are announced in a timely manner and in a publicly available format. 


Map of the natural areas proposed to be restored, enhanced or altered to benefit the ecosystems present on the Island and its surrounding waters as part of the plant upgrades. Current as of October 21st, 2021. Image courtesy of Metro Vancouver.

An Opportunity to Lead

While this issue directly impacts Vancouver, cities across Canada are looking to Vancouver as a leader in environmental decision making.  Its choices will influence other municipalities facing these or similar choices. Metro Vancouver has the opportunity to be a leader in sewage treatment, and inspire municipalities with smaller populations, budgets, and publicity to take progressive steps to ensure the cleanest water possible.  Moving forward with a true tertiary system, one that is the most protective of marine habitat, will set the standard by which other Canadian municipalities can emulate and strive for.


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