Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cardinal Uses New Technology for Village's Breakthrough Design

For the Kamloops Indian Band village's innovative design to work, Douglas Cardinal needed a new technology in the lowly field of sewage. When he went looking for a solution, he was surprised to find it in his own backyard.

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His circular housing layout would have been impossible with a traditional sewage system, which has to run in straight lines to prevent blockages, he said: "Cities are all designed around sewage systems. My feeling is that that's like planning for an [expletive deleted]. You should plan for the head and the heart. You should plan for the other side of life, from the waist up."

He doubted that any North American company had moved beyond the 19th-century technology of large pipes laid in trenches. Then he discovered Clearford Industries Inc., a small company based in Ottawa. The engineering company which became Clearford had designed a new system 18 years earlier, in response to a challenge from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy, and had it up and running in several small communities.

"Douglas told us he thought he would have to go to Finland or Sweden to find an environmentally conscious company," said Clearford President and CEO Bruce Linton. "After about four months of checking, he came to believe we could do what we told him."

Clearford's Small Bore Sewer (TM) technology combines aspects of the septic tank with a narrower and more flexible piping system. The key is a two-chamber "clarifier unit" for each household. Like a septic tank, it separates solids from liquid, using proprietary anaerobic bacteria digestion to reduce the volume of solids. Linton said the tanks required pumping out only once every seven to 10 years.

Because the outflow is liquid, it doesn't require large-diameter straight-line pipes or a significant gradient to allow gravity to pull along the effluent. The high-density polyethylene pipe is welded to prevent leakage. (Linton explained that a main problem with conventional sewers isn't leakage out, but leakage in of groundwater. The added volume places a burden on conventional treatment systems which his piping eliminates, he said.)

Another major benefit, said Linton, is that pipes can be installed by horizontal drilling instead of trench-digging. When a traditional system goes down in a trench, he said, "first you tear up the road, then you tear up the sidewalk." Most trees in the way also come down.

The horizontal drilling, he said, makes the hole closer to the surface without disturbing pavement or the trees. "It drills through the roots," he said. The pipes can also bend around rocks.

Cardinal said the Clearford system solved a problem that compromised his earlier planning for the Ouje'-Bougoumou community. The houses for the St. James Cree band had to be placed closer together than the people wanted simply because of the cost of the traditional sewage system. "Every foot of separation was another foot of concrete pipe, excavation and installation expense," Cardinal said.

Cardinal is now recommending the environmental and cost advantages of the Clearford system to Native communities. "We can and must use current technologies of building, communications, energy, learning and healing to allow the people of these communities to define their future and design and build the physical environment that encourages and supports that future," he said in a statement on the Clearford Web site.

Linton said that his rapidly growing company is highly interested in working with the First Nations. He said that with most clients he would talk about the cost estimates, but with Native communities he could also emphasize the environmental benefits.


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