An environmental group says too much sewage is ending up in local waterways, and is lobbying for better public reporting when municipalities have to bypass their wastewater treatment process.
The Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance, a registered not-for-profit corporation, says Ontario municipalities dumped approximately 942 million litres of sewage in cottage-area waterways in 170 bypass or overflow events in 2016; this is equal to 332,770.703 tonnes, or the equivalent to more than 376 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The group pointed to two bypass events in Wasaga Beach, including one that released about 2,400 cubic metres — or 2.4 million litres — of sewage into the Nottawasaga River in March, 2016 over the course of nearly 20 hours.
The data was collected from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
In a news release issued Aug. 27, they issued a call to change the way municipalities report bypass events, claiming that sewage is being dumped into Ontario waterways “at alarming rates.”
Spokesperson Jon Telch said along with better public reporting, the group also wants to assist municipalities in lobbying upper levels of government for funding to update aging infrastructure “so we can put an end to this problem.
“The solution of dumping untreated or partially-treated sewage into Ontario waterways is really an 18th century solution to a 21st century problem; we shouldn’t have to do this in 2018,” he said.
According to the annual report to Wasaga Beach by the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which manages the town’s water and wastewater facilities, there was a “partial tertiary bypass” in March, 2019 as a result of heavy rain.
There was also a bypass of 200,000 litres at a pumping station during the same storm event.
Richard Junkin, the vice-president of operations for the Ontario Clean Water Agency, and, coincidentally, a former operations manager at the Wasaga facility, said more than 90 per cent of what bypassed in that event was partially-treated wastewater that met compliance limits.
“By definition, it was a bypass, but what was discharged would meet what our criteria is if the plant was operating in a normal manner,” he said.
The rest was raw sewage, but Junkin noted that during high rain events, the dilution factor is high “and it’s almost all water and run-off.
“I’m not trying to minimize it as we don’t turn a blind eye to these things,” he said.
Bypass and overflow information is reported by municipalities to the ministry through the Spills Action Centre and entered into a database. While information is regularly reported to the province, Telch said the public needs to be notified immediately when a municipality discharges sewage.
Telch added the existing public reporting system gives no indication as to what a municipality has put into the water when there is overflow.
“The public has a right to know when their municipality is dumping sewage into their waterways, whether you’re a cottager, or you’re a fisherman and that’s your livelihood,” Telch said. “It’s important to know what’s in your water and when.”
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