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Proposed Federal Wastewater Regulations Poorly Conceived

Proposed Federal Wastewater Regulations Poorly Conceived

About a year ago, the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Environment Ministers [14 in all] met to agree on a national standard for waste-water management. Most of the ministers eventually signed a document titled “Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent,” to which was attached three supporting technical documents [Quebec and Newfoundland abstained on the grounds that the Strategy did not address their unique environments. The Strategy exempts the Far North.] The Strategy document states goals and principles and calls for the development of binding regulations under the Fisheries Act.

There is much within the Strategy paper with which ARESST can agree. Who can argue with the stated goals of “Improved human health and environmental protection” and “Improved clarity about the way municipal wastewater effluent is managed and regulated” or “…a process to conduct site-specific risk assessments and develop site-specific effluent discharge objectives and monitoring and reporting requirements?” And we can applaud the stated desire to encourage the interception of toxins at source rather than trying to remove them through treatment, and the observation that conventional treatment cannot cope with persistent organics, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, etc.

But the Devil, as ever, is in the details – and in this case in the Regulations supposedly derived from the Strategy. As feared, the Regulations apply a single standard to all effluent, without regard for the receiving environment. [It seems the Federal bureaucracy has not learned from the National Building Code, which similarly applied a single standard to the country as a whole, leading to the Leaky Condo disaster.] What is needed at a minimum is a provision for exemption where it can be shown that a non-conforming system meets an acceptable standard in the receiving waters, particularly if the non-conforming system is presently in place.

The CRD Board has repeatedly cited the need to comply with national standards in its decision to move from ocean- to land-based sewage treatment. This has also been the primary argument of organizations like Ecojustice [formerly the Sierra Legal Defense Fund] who have cited Section 36 of the Fisheries Act – a law that prohibits the deposit of a “deleterious substance” in fish-bearing waters. But for such groups the problem with Section 36 is that effluent from Victoria’s deep ocean outfalls does not appear to have any harmful effect. So the emphasis has shifted to the proposed new Regulations on the grounds that if they become the law of the land any science-based arguments will be moot.

The deadline for submissions has passed, but people can still comment to their Member of Parliament.

The Gazette site is at: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2010/2010-03-20/html/reg1-eng.html

Links to the Strategy and Technical documents are at: http://www.ccme.ca/ourwork/water.html?category_id=81

Read comments submitted by Hon. David Anderson, Dr. Shaun Peck, Alex Murdoch and Elizabeth Woodworth.

Please take the time to state your opinion on this important issue!

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