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 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

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna’s 2021 preliminary budget proposes 4.27% tax increase

Proposed budget calls for eight new RCMP officers

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

The former BC Tree Fruits office building at 1473 Water Street has been sold. (Contributed)
BC Tree Fruits downtown Kelowna office sold for $7.5M

Historic building sold for 44 per cent more than the $5.2-million asking price

Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP was called to a report of a fight at an Okanagan Landing Halloween party Saturday, Oct. 31, but issued the homeowner a ticket  under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act for having too many people at the party. (Black Press file photo)
West Kelowna man, dog rescued from carbon monoxide poisoning

The man was quickly transported to the hospital

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Police responded to W.L. Seaton Secondary after reports of young man attempting to smash car windows in the student parking lot on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Facebook)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

Member of W.L. Seaton Secondary exposure Nov. 26

The aftermath of the 3 a.m. fire in Keremeos. (Keremeos Fire Department)
Fire and explosion wakes Keremeos residents

A motorhome was consumed and a boat severely damaged after the 3 a.m. fire

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

Margaret Holm
HOLM: Better Bicycle Lanes

Margaret Holm writes about solutions to global warming

The newly opened Switzmalph Child Care Centre at Salmon Arm offers culturally enriched programs featuring the Secwépemc culture but is open to children of all heritages. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Video: Switzmalph Child Care Centre shares culture with Shuswap community

New daycare at Salmon Arm offers Secwépemc culturally enriched programs to children of all heritages

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Man walking in the winter downtown.
Dyer: The role of air tightness testing in energy efficiency

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

Most Read