Canadian Consulting Engineer


October 1, 2011
By ISL Engineering and Land Services

The community of Chateh is located in the far northwestern corner of Alberta, about 105 kilometres west of High Level in the boreal forest region of Canada.

The community of Chateh is located in the far northwestern corner of Alberta, about 105 kilometres west of High Level in the boreal forest region of Canada.

This is Dene Tha’ reserve land. Like many First Nations and other small remote communities, contending with water quality issues is a fact of life. First Nation communities tend to have inadequate water, wastewater and waste servicing. They have aging facilities and equipment, and due to their isolation they have difficulties finding experienced water treatment plant operators.

In Chateh’s case, the water appeared and tasted undrinkable and came from some of the worst source water in Canada. The community faced frequent boil water advisories, stemming largely from a turbidity problem.

The unique client needs spurred ISL to apply innovations to every component of the Chateh Water Treatment Plant project. The new plant has the first dual-membrane water treatment system for a First Nation in Canada. It has an easy to operate system, with a lower lifecycle cost than other systems.

The plant uses micro and nano filtration for 100% treatment, removing colour, aluminum, iron, manganese and total organic carbon (TOC), effectively preventing the generation of harmful disinfection by-products (THMs). In addition, this project is one of the first to test the 2006 Design Guidelines for First Nations Water Works issued by Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) for the design and construction of a water treatment plant.

Incorporating energy efficiency into the building design and features made the facility suitable for the cold winters and reduces the lifecycle cost of running the facility. Thanks to different strategies including a renewable source of energy for the lighting, the building is expected to use 62% less energy and at 65% less cost than a comparable building using Model National Energy Code for Buildings (MNECB) standards for construction.

Working with the community

The approach to working with First Nation communities is very different from the conventional one. It is more relationship-based and hands-on.

ISL’s team went beyond a normal project management scope for this client, seeking solutions that would solve the water quality issues and also fit with the community. These approaches ranged from helping with funding applications, to equipping the plant with basic tools and safety gear. The engineers also provided training videos, standard operating procedures, and a custom information and management system that enables remote troubleshooting.

To keep critical momentum going on the project, ISL facilitated ongoing communication and meetings between stakeholders. These included AANDC, Health Canada, First Nations-Technical Services Advisory Group and members of the Dene Tha’. The use of Basecamp project software provided transparency with the project’s funders, AANDC.

Accommodation was constructed in the community for the contractors, which saved two months of time that they would have otherwise spent in commuting. The accommodation – an asset worth $800,000 for the community – is now being used by the school teachers, most of whom come from outside the community.

In order to tender for the best equipment, ISL developed the evaluation criteria in collaboration with the Dene Tha’ First Nation in order to identify what was important to them. The chosen equipment manufacturer had the lowest overall cost considering capital, operational, maintenance and replacement costs over 20 years. The choice of equipment resulted in numerous efficiencies for the job and reduced the level of risk to the owner.

Commissioned in mid-December 2010, the plant now produces excellent water quality that exceeds standards. The new building also has an attractive design, revitalizing Chateh’s downtown core. cce


Project name:

Chateh Water Treatment Plant, Alberta

Award-winning firm (prime consultant):

ISL Engineering and Land Services, Edmonton (Deon H.J. Wilner, P.Eng., Ashraf Rayyan, P.Eng., Gavin Cheng, P.Eng., Robert Perrault, P.Eng.)


Dene Tha’ First Nation

Other key players:

Manasc Isaac Architects (architects), Ptarmigan Engineering (structural), Canadian Consulting Group (electrical), J.R. Paine & Associates (geotechnical), SKMG Construction (contractor).


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