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October 12, 2010

New federal guidelines will bring wastewater treatment system upgrades

The federal government hasn’t yet issued national guidelines for local wastewater treatment systems, but work is already beginning as municipalities look to update badly aging sewer infrastructure.

Last February, environment minister Jim Prentice announced public consultations and a review of draft standards for Canada’s estimated 4,000 wastewater facilities.

“It is not acceptable that we continue discharging untreated waste into our waterways,” Prentice said at the time.

It was no accident Prentice and his entourage chose Brockville as the backdrop for their announcement. With earlier promises of provincial and federal financial assistance this eastern Ontario city had already awarded a tender for a new $46-million secondary sewage treatment plant.

With work commencing this past February, the project put Brockville ahead of the pack.

City of Brockville operations director Conal Cosgrove says the facility is scheduled for completion in March 2012.

At the same time, other municipalities are looking to get started. James Arnott, manager of Environment Canada’s wastewater section, said Victoria B.C. doesn’t yet have shovels in the ground but has already made plans.

Environment Canada held consultations in April and May and is now reviewing that input with a view to releasing a set of standards in early 2011, Arnott said.

“The regulations will be phased in,” Arnott said.

“Certain systems will need upgrades sooner than others will, and that is being built into the regulations. It will be quite clear, once the regulations are in place, who has to do what by when.”

Arnott said Environment Canada received input from all levels of government and various other parties.

“It’s really a commitment we have federally with the provinces and territories through an agreement that was reached through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment in February 2009,” Arnott said.

Arnott said there’s a general understanding that circumstances vary, and so will individual timelines. “Some will have 10 years, some will have 20 years, others will have 30 years,” he explained.

Most wastewater treatment systems are municipally-owned, but the handful belonging to other owners will also be included. Military bases fall under federal jurisdiction, for instance, while mining communities and other resource-based entities are often privately run.

Despite two months of consultations, Arnott said Environment Canada didn’t hear too much from the construction industry, though it did receive considerable comment from those directly affected.

“Broadly speaking, we received quite a bit of feedback on a lot of the technical details about the regulation ... and about the capacity that would be needed within the construction industry to make all of this happen. But that certainly wasn’t a broad, overarching message.”

Municipalities expressed concern about funding.

“It’s something that the federal government recognizes is an issue,” Arnott said, adding that Environment Canada forecasts it will cost $10 billion to $13 billion over 30 years to upgrade systems and reach the new baseline standards.

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