Federal regulator cannot speak to wastewater needs

Environment and Climate Change Canada responses mirror province

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on August 22, 2016
Seabirds gather near the underwater outlet for raw sewage off a beach in Torbay.
Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

Matching response last week from the provincial government, Environment and Climate Change Canada representatives say they have no comprehensive list of wastewater infrastructure needs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

To date, no level of government has been able to provide a list of communities requiring system upgrades, work on tap, or a cost estimate for this province meeting federal regulations more specific than “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

That cost is expected to be spread over 20 years, according to the province, but it also remains unclear what communities have authorizations from Environment and Climate Change Canada to continue using their existing wastewater systems for that time and what communities only believe they do — landing them on the wrong side of the law.

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The Telegram reached out to the federal regulator early last week, while putting together several pieces on provincial wastewater infrastructure requirements. The department provided response to submitted questions late Friday night.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the enforcement of the federal wastewater regulations introduced in 2012 under the Fisheries Act, brought into full effect in 2015.

As reported, municipalities throughout the province are continuing to struggle with funding for their primary treatment options and advanced treatment required under the new standards is landing beyond their reach. The communities are challenged by historical construction, other capital spending requirements (including for safe drinking water), plus outmigration and demographics chipping away at their tax base, to name a few factors.

The release of raw and undertreated sewage through coastal outfalls remains commonplace in Newfoundland and Labrador. And the question remains of when and how the federal regulations will be met.

Exactly who is on the wrong side of the law right now? The provincial government could not say when contacted. Environment and Climate Change Canada has now also suggested it is not in a position to say, although The Telegram has requested clarification on its written responses.

The regulator did require anyone not meeting new wastewater standards to apply for a “transitional authorization” by June 30,2014. In a process taking over a year, it would be determined if the grace period for meeting the regulations would be until 2020, 2030 or 2040.

“Environment and Climate Change Canada has a list of communities that have submitted their Wastewater System Effluent Regulation (WSER) identification reports as required by the (regulations) but this list may not be comprehensive,” stated the email Friday.

“The information provided by the communities does not include the specific infrastructure upgrades required.”

Over the past two weeks, The Telegram has spoken with mayors of several of the province`s largest municipalities who say they still do not know when their grace period will end. Yet the regulator stated the information has already been issued.

Any communities not currently meeting the new standard for wastewater treatment (effective Jan. 1, 2015) and not in possession of a transitional authorization — or in discussions with Environment and Climate Change Canada on the same — are violating the Fisheries Act.

One mayor who spoke with The Telegram mentioned hearing something about a new hire at the federal department to assist communities in this province, to determine their wastewater needs and help them to get on side with the regulations.

A spokesman for the regulator said that is not the case.

Enforcement officers already active in the province are generally tasked with seeing communities comply with the existing regulations, it was noted. They are able to conduct inspections and gather samples for the purpose.

The Telegram is following up with both the provincial and federal governments in an attempt to clarify and confirm the status of communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleFitz