Reckoning time

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Last week, the federal government put in long-expected rules required secondary processing for municipal sewage. The rules stretch right across the country, but they are likely to be felt more in coastal regions than anywhere else. More on that later.

Depending on how highly the government rates the impact of current methods of dumping waste, cities and towns will have either 10, 20 or 30 years to solve their individual waste problems.

It means expensive new plants to handle something that, in all honesty, we should be ashamed to still be doing: dumping untreated or partially treated sewage into waterways.

Seeking brevity, a national CBC report described the difference in the two types of treatment like this: “Under the new rules, it will no longer be good enough for municipalities to use only primary treatment, in which solids that float or sink are removed. Municipalities will now be required to perform secondary treatment, where dissolved organic material is removed as well.”

A more interesting facet of the story is that some 75 per cent of Canadian municipalities are already in compliance with the new rules. Many of those who are not in compliance have had the benefit of being able to dump their waste into large bodies of water. The truth of it is that inland municipalities have often had to face up to their waste responsibilities and the costs involved with solving those problems, much sooner. They haven’t had a handy ocean to take up the stinking slack.

Already, the call has gone out from the municipalities that will be affected for financial help. The upgrades will cost billions of dollars, and the Canadian Federation of Municipalities has argued the federal government should have a national funding program to help soften the blow.

In this province, St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe has said all three levels of government will have to be involved. The capital city, he says, simply can’t be expected to pick up the monumental costs involved.

The city has been extremely late to the sewage-

treatment bandwagon — primary treatment has been in place for a few years, and past councils, as recently as the ’90s, pooh-poohed (sorry) the need for any treatment spending whatsoever. One mayor famously said that sewage was “mostly water anyway” and should be considered that way.

Well, the financial burden has come home to roost — and just because the mayor feels we can’t pay, doesn’t mean we won’t have to.

The federal government has  said that it already pays money for municipal infrastructure, and there’s expected to be a new infrastructure plan in 2014 or so, after the federal deficit is dealt with. Even so, many communities are concerned about the fact that they may be required to cover a large share of the cost of dealing with their own waste.

John Crosbie once famously said he didn’t take the cod out of the water; it’s worth keeping in mind that there are other things that the federal government isn’t directly responsible for putting into the water, either.

Who is responsible? We are. In this province, the ocean has provided a ready solution to avoid paying for the mess we make. Eventually, that had to end. No one should be surprised that it has.

Organizations: CBC, Canadian Federation of Municipalities

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  • Winston Adams
    July 25, 2012 - 23:08

    John Smith, I agree with you. reduce ocean polution, but not at all cost. And our sewage, while natural , a fish may disagree. And as to electricity, Again I agree , I like electricity too, maybe more than you. I say this because I hate to see so much being wasted, Some 600MW on the island. If that was't being wasted( since it is very economic to save it) and we needed another 300 mw or so, then I would say bring on Muskrat falls. Even clean power from water turbines should be valued to get the most out of it. We're just behind on using efficient heating technology.

  • Winston Adams
    July 25, 2012 - 11:34

    John Smith, I doubt that the sewage in our local waters come all the way from China or India. But Harper's policy to abandon commitments on greenhouse gases use the same agrument: let China and India do their share. A convenient scapegoat. And you worry about the polution of Holyrood to promote Muskrat Falls! But our polution of our own shores in not a concern to you.

    • john Smith
      July 25, 2012 - 12:00

      Well Winston b'y...I care a lot more about the carcinogenic, black soot that we have to breath everyday, then I do about a naturally occurring substance like human waste going into the oceans. Of course, I would love if we didn't have to put anything into the oceans, but not at all cost. The thing about muskrat is that it will not pollute, at least it will not pour tons of carbon from burning dirty bunker fuel, and we will need the power, so it is the lesser of the evils. Every form of generating electricity has it's downside...to be sure. Burning coal, burning oil, burning gas, nuclear, wind, solar, tidal, they all have their enviromental, and economical impact. But I like electricity, and I need it, so I am willing to put up a dam to spin a turbine to create it. As far as sewage treatment goes I was just trying to make a point that Canada as a whole pollutes so little compared to other more populous countries, while we should do what we can to lessen the impact, it should not be at all costs...in my opinion.

  • saelcove
    July 25, 2012 - 10:06

    Not to worry john boy always has the answer

  • Carl
    July 25, 2012 - 09:15

    I agree 100% with this article. It is past time for us to take responsibility for managing our own waste responsibly. If municipalities are facing a funding crunch because of the new regulations in spite of the long implementation period, it is only because they have been neglecting the problem for generations, kicking the can down the road instead of saving and investing in solutions to this serious problem. The current federal government has dramatically increased its funding for municipal infrastructure and has made the gas tax transfer to municipalities permanent. There is no excuse for not using those funds for something as sensible and fundamental as sewage treatment. The federal regulations should be applauded - It's just too bad they had to force us into doing the right thing.

  • Winston Adams
    July 25, 2012 - 07:48

    At Bishop's Cove where I spend much time, not even the solids are removed. Most sever lines go to the ocean, a lot 50 ft or more short of the ocean, some leading to beach areas. There was more concern about the ocean and beaches 50 years ago. My complaints to council and the health dept over the years has been ignored . Another 30 years to comply- sounds serious.

  • John Smith
    July 25, 2012 - 07:03

    When you look at it globally, we must not even register on the sewage scale. We have a population in Canada of about 35 million people, the city of Tokyo has over 30 million people, mexico city has over 25 million people...these are just cities...not countries. I would say a country the size of india puts more sewage into the ocean in a day, then we do here in a year. So It doesn't make the issue go away, but we do need some perspective.