Wastewater System Effluent Regulations: Will They Help or Harm the Environment?

Elizabeth Brubaker
May 17, 2010

May 17, 2010

Randall Meades
Director General, Public and Resources Sectors Directorate
Department of the Environment
351 Saint-Joseph Boulevard, 13th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3

Dear Mr. Meades:

Following are Environment Probe’s comments on the proposed Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on March 20, 2010.

While we believe that the proposed regulations, vigorously enforced, would in many cases benefit the environment, we have four concerns about them:

1. We are concerned that the proposed regulations represent a relaxing of existing standards. Currently, under the Fisheries Act, no deleterious substances of any type may be deposited in water frequented by fish. The proposed regulations, in permitting specified amounts of four contaminants in wastewater effluents, could authorize discharges that were previously forbidden, in law if not in practice.

2. We are concerned that the proposed regulations disempower the public. Often it is the affected public rather than the government that is the most motivated protector of the environment. The Fisheries Act has enabled individual citizens and non-governmental organizations to protect the environment when provincial or federal governments have failed to do so. We are opposed to taking away the public’s right to enforce environmental laws.

3. We are concerned about the long time-frame proposed in the regulations. Non-compliant facilities would be able to apply for transitional authorizations to continue to operate – some for as long as 30 years. Wastewater pollution, as the government notes, is costing Canadians billions in lost recreational and tourism opportunities, closed fisheries, higher water supply costs, public health risks, and lower property values. It is inappropriate to wait until 2040 to clean it up.

4. We are concerned that the proposed regulations may not be adequately enforced. Past experience does not inspire confidence. Fisheries Act prohibitions have rarely been enforced against municipal wastewater polluters. In fact, governments – provincial and federal – have stayed charges laid under the act by citizens trying to clean up wastewater pollution.

On a more positive note, we would like to commend the federal government for resisting calls for new funding programs to help cover the costs of complying with the proposed regulations. We agree with the government that the requirements are affordable for most jurisdictions. Communities that lack sufficient capital should consider public-private partnerships to meet their financing needs.

The users of local wastewater systems, rather than taxpayers across the country, should foot the bill for facility upgrades. No community has the right to pollute local or downstream waters, to jeopardize public health, to close beaches to swimmers, to harm fish or fish habitat, or to destroy shell-fisheries. Requiring users to bear the full costs of treating their waste is not “offloading” (as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities charges). It is, rather, an important example of “polluter pay” – one of the core principles of environmental sustainability.

If you have any questions about our comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Brubaker
Executive Director, Environment Probe

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