December 4-11, 2006

CCME seeks input on CWS options for managing municipal wastewater effluent

The Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) has released consultation materials for review and comment as part of its process in developing a Canada-wide Strategy (CWS) for Managing Municipal Wastewater Effluent. The discussion document details option proposals, with economic implications, implementation timelines and relevant questions for consideration. Other materials include a background paper on municipal wastewater effluent and supplementary technical reports.

As contemplated, the strategy would apply to wastewater from its source through to the end-of-pipe effluent discharge. It would also address combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), but would not apply to stormwater discharged separately from sanitary sewer systems, nor would it address septic tanks.

As part of an overall risk management framework, the draft CWS would incorporate national performance standards setting limits on substances commonly found in municipal wastewater effluent. The framework would also require treatment facility owners to conduct site-specific environmental risk assessments (SSRAs) and to manage those risks appropriately.

The SSRAs would determine the optimum effluent discharge objectives for each site and would categorize facilities as high-, medium- or low-risk. This would help authorities assign priorities for infrastructure upgrading.

The framework also proposes requirements to deal with CSOs and SSOs, including a ban on construction of new combined sewers and a requirement that the problems causing past SSOs be corrected. Overflows from existing combined sewers would no longer be allowed in dry weather except during spring thaw or in an emergency, and the framework proposes the elimination of all SSOs. Proposed as well are consistent monitoring requirements at both wastewater facilities and in the receiving environment.

The draft CWS calls for research to develop alternative standards and strategies oriented to the special conditions in the far north. In the meantime, northern facilities would be required to adhere to the current risk-based approach to managing their wastewater effluents.

The strategy further proposes the establishment of a dedicated Canadian wastewater research body. Drawing on the expertise of governments, academia and consultants in the municipal wastewater sector, the group would support the development of policies and would co-ordinate and disseminate research and information in areas such as: identification and reduction of pollutants; emerging issues; requirements taking northern conditions and constraints into account; and strengthening the links between effluent, health and the environment.

Implementing a CWS for municipal wastewater effluent will be a long-term process, given the magnitude of the task and its costs. The CCME estimates the costs associated with replacing and upgrading treatment infrastructure at between $8 and $13 billion, with one-time costs such as SSRAs estimated at $500 million. Accordingly, the draft CWS proposes a staged approach to investing in upgrades to meet the performance standards, based on the level of risk posed by facilities (as determined by the SSRAs). The CCME is studying funding options and other economic aspects and expects to have more information in this area available by the spring of 2007.

A template for submitting comments has been posted on the CCME Web site, along with the discussion paper; these may be viewed at www.ccme.ca. An Environmental Monitoring Guidance Document will be posted at a later date. Comments may also be sent by mail, E-mail or fax; responses are due by March 1, 2007 and should be directed to Jennifer Vigano at the CCME, 360 - 123 Main St, Winnipeg R3C 1A3, FAX 204/948-2125, E-mail jvigano@ccme.ca.

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