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.