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Redesigning the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

December 3, 2021
UBC MEL IWME Field Trip Wastewater Plant

What does classroom learning look like in a real world setting?

In October of 2021, MEL in Integrated Water Management (IWME) students had the chance to tour the Iona Island Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant site. This site visit offered a real-world perspective into the complex decisions made in the integrated design and placement of a wastewater treatment plant.

Located in Richmond, British Columbia, the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant first opened in 1963 and has been providing primary wastewater treatment to residents and businesses across Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, and UBC ever since. The plant treats wastewater for around 600,000 residents, in addition to various businesses and industries.


In 2020, the Metro Vancouver board approved a plan to upgrade the treatment plan in an effort to make a positive contribution to the health and well-being of both people and the environment.

The project planning kicked off in 2018 with a three to five year planning process, drawing on the combined talents of a team of engineers, planners, landscape architects, Indigenous, and community representatives. It implemented an Integrated Design Process which supports whole system thinking, allowing the design team to arrive at optimal and resilient design solutions. The decisions impacted onsite technology and geographical location, with considerations being given to the effects that the project would have on local ecology and rights holders.

This rebuild and expansion of one of British Columbia’s largest sewage treatment plant will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever planned in the province. It is expected to create over 100,000 jobs across the next two decades.


As part of IWME 506: Water Infrastructure Project Delivery, instructor Dr. Cheryl Nelms (Adjunct Professor, UBC Civil Engineering) introduced a project in class and students completed an assignment reviewing project documents and summarizing all concerns that arose. Engineering courses as part of the MEL Integrated Water Management program cover the entire spectrum of water management, from engineering hydrology, water treatment design, and environmental fluid mechanics, to water and wastewater management strategies.

In October 2021, Integrated Water Management students toured the Iona Wastewater Treatment Plant site, led by Sylvia Pendl (MBCSLA), a member of the Iona Island WWTP Project Delivery Team. Pendl showed the students around the site and provided a closer look at design options for the project.

Wen Li, a current student in the part-time MEL in IWME program, reflected that she was impressed with the scale of the project. She felt that this site visit was a great example of big picture thinking, which she encourages in her day-to-day-project management work. John Chang, a current full-time international MEL in IWME student, said he had never seen a wastewater treatment plant project this thoughtfully designed before.

Projects like the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plan exemplify the high-growth industry of sustainable water management and are the perfect way to experience classroom learning in real life. By choosing both engineering and business, the MEL in Integrated Water Management offers students the strategic skills to play a leading role in forward-thinking organizations.

If you’re ready to invest in your future through postgraduate education, in just 12-months or 24-months, you can build your professional network and gain a competitive edge in this rapidly growing industry. To learn more about this innovative professional master’s degree, sign up for an information session today.

Integrated Water Management

Integrated Water Management

Apply your technical and leadership skills in developing sustainable water management solutions.

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