PARRY SOUND — It’s a common problem for many municipalities — but does that mean it should happen at all?

Largely due to aging infrastructure and illegal connections to storm drains, during or after a heavy rainfall and/or a power outage, the Town of Parry Sound can experience a sewage bypass; meaning sewage may make its way into Georgian Bay.

Late last month, the Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance released 2016 data saying that Ontario municipalities dumped sewage into the bay for more than 325 hours during 43 events. At that time, approximately 18,000 tonnes of sewage made its way into the water.

Although in no way intending to cause public panic, Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance spokesperson Jon Telch said the public deserves to know when and for how long sewage is dumped into municipal waterways.

“You are absolutely correct in that instances of high rainfall volume trigger a sewage bypass, but what is concerning is the duration of those bypass dumps,” he said. “At times they are short, but depending on the severity of a storm, can take place for interrupted hours … Further, while these occurrences can be considered common, the GBPA is asking the question — should that be acceptable? It should be safe to say that no municipal politician in their right mind would wish to dump sewage into their local waterways.”

Telch said municipalities should be advocating to their federal and provincial counterparts for more infrastructure dollars.

As mandated, the Ministry of the Environment is notified of every bypass, said Peter Brown, Parry Sound director of public works. Further, he said he takes no issue in letting the public know, but wants to ensure that other municipalities are doing the same.

 “I think it’s a good idea, I don’t have a problem with doing it, but I just want to make sure that everybody is doing it and playing by the same rules. Because when sewage is bypassing it is going into Georgian Bay — that’s just a fact that we don’t hide,” Brown said. “These things happen largely based on weather. There are the rare occasions where it’s based on mechanical or power failure.”

During the June 30 power outage in Parry Sound, Brown said there were no bypasses because town staff remained vigilant to ensure the facility was running.

“We didn’t have any bypasses due to the power failure, because staff were on top of it — they had generators and had two pumper trucks come in and make sure everything was running smoothly. But there are times when the power goes out and there’s so many stations are out — we may get a bypass.”

Sewage plants, Brown said, are not constructed for eavestrough downspouts, sump pumps, roof leaders, or storm sewers — many of which in Parry Sound are connected to waste water system making their way to the treatment plant.

Even with the Ministry of the Environment being notified about bypasses, Telch said that information — although public — is difficult to find.

“The benefit to the public of having access to this information regularly is that the public will then have all the tools required to make decisions about their daily, weekly, monthly use of their municipal waterways. As an example, if you reside in Georgian Bay, have a dock and enjoy swimming, you might want to know if sewage was dumped directly into your side of the bay the night before your morning dip. Maybe you have young relatives visiting and as a result, you want to know when the last sewage dump took place before letting them jump in.”

Moreover, Telch said the public can no longer be certain of water safety with the adage of “dilution is the solution” meaning that a body of water such as Georgian Bay is large enough to dilute any amount of raw sewage dumped.

“With climate change impacting weather patterns, the events of severe weather sewage dumping can be expected to rise … can we — the public — be absolutely sure of (no associated health risks)?”

Brown said he takes exception with the word “dump” repeatedly used by Georgian Bay Preservation Alliance.

“The Town of Parry Sound does not dump sewage into Georgian Bay. We experience bypasses that are beyond our control. An increase in infrastructure dollars is one thing, getting roof drains and sump pumps off the sanitary system is another and the public needs to be aware of this.”

Emrys Graefe