January 3, 2005

CIELAP calls for national sewer standards for added water protection

A new study by the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) concludes that too many pollutants are still finding their way into drinking water supplies through municipal wastewater effluents. As a result, CIELAP calls for a national minimum standard to be applied to all Canadian jurisdictions to limit, restrict and forbid certain pollutants from being discharged into municipal sewers.

The study report, Spotlight on Sustainability: Managing Sources of Municipal Wastewater, notes that sewage in the form of municipal wastewater is one of the most significant sources of pollution and the largest source, by volume, of effluent discharged into Canadian waters. Laws governing the types and amounts of pollutants that can be discharged into sewers differ greatly across the country, subjecting Canadians to different levels of health risks and sewage treatment and disposal costs depending on where they live. Although the Walkerton inquiry has paved the way to significantly improved drinking water safety standards in Ontario, nation-wide, insufficient sewage management regulations still prevent the truly effective protection of Canadian water supplies.

The report, researched and written by Lillian Hopkins, also cites declining levels of funding in recent years from senior levels of government. Furthermore, much of Canada's aging sewerage infrastructure has become damaged or obsolete, making it inadequate to deal with demand or current (and likely future) contaminants originating from the environment or human activities.

Finally, it notes that growing pressure on municipal infrastructure, resulting from population grown and significant expansion in some water-intensive sectors, requires the implementation of source control strategies, including sewer-use bylaws, pricing mechanisms and pollution prevention plans to protect Canadian waters.

CIELAP's report makes eight recommendations for a national sewage management strategy, which include:

1. Adoption of a Canada-wide sewer-use bylaw which sets minimum standards to protect the environment and human health;

2. Adoption of a "user-pay" approach for water and wastewater service charges;

3. Implementation of a volume-based rate-scheme to encourage conservation and "front-of-pipe" preventive technologies;

4. Introduction of water rates which better reflect the true cost of water, including treatment, operation and capital costs;

5. Implementation of sewer-use bylaw restrictions based on total overall loadings, to discourage dilution of wastes;

6. A requirement that all municipalities with municipal sewage treatment plants put into effect sewer-use bylaws with numeric limits on restricted (toxic) wastes;

7. A requirement that non-residential sources (i.e. industrial, commercial, institutional) discharging waste into municipal sewers implement a pollution prevention plan; and

8. A phase-out of contaminants which cannot be treated properly by sewage treatment plants.

More information is available from CIELAP executive director Anne Mitchell, 416/923-3529, ext 25. The report may also be viewed on the CIELAP Web site, www.cielap.org.

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