Canadian Geese watch on the beach as people paddle in a canoe on Lake Ontario in Toronto on Monday, July 15, 2019. In Canada’s largest city, raw sewage flows into Lake Ontario so often, Toronto tells people they should never swim off the city’s beaches for least two days after it rains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canadian cities urge federal leaders to wade into wastewater debate

Mayors are hoping sewage will become an election issue

In Canada’s largest city, raw sewage flows into Lake Ontario so often, Toronto tells people they should never swim off the city’s beaches for least two days after it rains.

Across the country in Mission, B.C., a three-decade-old pipe that carries sewage under the Fraser River to a treatment plant in Abbotsford is so loaded operators can’t even slip a camera inside it to look for damage. If that pipe bursts, it will dump 11 million litres of putrid water from area homes and businesses into a critical salmon habitat every day it isn’t fixed.

While climate change is dominating the environmental conversations leading into the federal election campaign, politicians who show plans to stop the dumping of toxic, feces-laden sludge into Canada’s waterways will be very welcome, particularly by the municipal governments for whom the problem is a daily fight.

Mission Mayor Pam Alexis said she is “absolutely hopeful” wastewater will become an election issue, as her city races against time to keep its pipe from bursting.

The Conservatives and the Greens have both promised to end sewage dumping, though neither party has said exactly how. The NDP is promising a national freshwater strategy, building on a private member’s bill introduced by Essex, Ont., MP Tracey Ramsey in April. Part of that bill calls for an evaluation of Canada’s wastewater infrastructure in light of the impact of climate change.

The Liberals have not yet released their environment promises. In government, they set aside $2 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, and since 2016 have approved $1.5 billion for 1,452 projects, everything from new sewers and lagoons to treatment-plant upgrades and dam repairs.

Conservative environment critic Ed Fast said his party’s plan will involve infrastructure programs.

“All I can say is that a Conservative government will place a higher priority on addressing this very critical problem for our environment than the Liberals have placed on it,” Fast said. “We continue to see significant amounts of raw sewage being dumped into our waterways and that has to stop. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”

Environment Canada says between 2013 and 2017, more than one trillion litres of untreated wastewater are known to have leaked or been purposely dumped. The department says 2018 data isn’t ready for release.

The actual amount is higher because although Environment Canada requires municipalities to monitor and report how much untreated waste goes into waterways, many still don’t.

Often, that happens in communities with older systems that carry household waste and stormwater in the same pipes; when rain or a lot of melting snow overwhelms such systems, they’re usually designed to vent the diluted sewage into the nearest waterway.

In 2012 the Conservatives set tough new standards for treating wastewater, which take effect between 2020 and 2040 for different types of systems.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the cost just to meet those standards is close to $18 billion. It would cost even more to fix city sewer systems so they aren’t constantly leaking raw wastewater when it rains.

Last fall Toronto started a $3-billion wastewater system project intended to stop raw sewage from leaking when it rains. City water department officials say it will take until 2038 to finish if Toronto has to fund it all alone. If the province and federal government agree to help it can be completed in 2030, keeping billions of untreated waste out of Lake Ontario.

Toronto says in 2018 more than 7.1 billion litres of raw sewage leaked into Lake Ontario and other waterways, because the combined sewer and storm water system can’t handle the capacity during rainstorms.

The City of Ottawa says it’s a year away from finishing a giant underground tunnel meant to contain sewage overflows in all but the most extreme cases. The four-year project is costing more than $230 million and it’s only part of a decade-long effort. Montreal notoriously dumped eight billion litres of sewage into the St. Lawrence River in 2015, just after the last election, because a major pipe needed repairs and there was nothing else to do with the waste.

Mayor Alexis in Mission says the cost of her city’s pipe-replacement project ballooned from $8 million to $32 million, in large part because of delays and additional requirements put on the project during the permitting process. The federal government agreed to contribute half the original cost, but the city has had to reapply for more money and is still waiting, almost a year later, for a response.

Alexis says the sewer pipe is also about affordable housing, an issue all major parties know is key for Vancouver-area voters. Alexis said Mission is one of the last Lower Mainland communities where housing isn’t overly expensive, and its population has grown 25 per cent in less than a decade. But without a new sewer pipe that growth has to stop, she said, which is driving up home prices there, too.

ALSO READ: Down the toilet: Study compares pot, meth, cocaine found in sewage across Canada

ALSO READ: Two Victoria General Hospital operating rooms flooded

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

“Protesters get one side of the story and they stand up with their fists in the air.”

Federal minister pledges to meet Wet’suwet’en chiefs in Smithers over natural gas pipeline

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they are visiting Mohawk territory

Lake Kathlyn school sold to Wet’suwet’en for new seat of government

The 11.64-acre property was listed in mid-January for an asking price of $1.1 million.

‘Kids saw this as their legacy’: SSS students speak against decision to remove painted ceiling tiles

As of Feb. 20 an online petition against the decision is currently at just under 1,250 signatures

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games kick off in Fort St. John

More than 1,000 of B.C.’s best athletes will be competing over the next three days

Shopping cart collector at B.C. Costco awarded $583,000 after getting pinned by car

Kurtis Ryan Burdeniuk, 22, was retrieving carts when a driver backed into him in the parking lot

‘Usain Bolt he was not’: B.C. gang police seize drugs, cash after foot chase

‘The man took off running when he saw our officers approaching,’ CFSEU BC says

Canadians released from coronavirus-ridden cruise ship in Japan fly home

Those who were cleared to travel are to be screened again at Canadian Forces Base Trenton

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Trudeau promises update on blockades as Wet’suwet’en chiefs meet Mohawk supporters

B.C. hereditary chiefs are thanking the Mohawks for supporting them in opposition to Coastal GasLink

Petition seeks to remove B.C. police department from case of murdered 24-year-old real estate agent

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Most Read