Sewage Contamination of Ontario’s Waterways Remains an Issue

The latest annual report of Ontario’s Environmental Commission has warned that Ontarians are slowly killing their lakes and rivers with pollutants coming from industries, agriculture and sewage from cities. Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe stated that although there are rules in place to protect source groundwater from contamination, little has been done to keep the lakes, rivers and private wells pollutant-free. Sewage contamination of Ontario’s waterways remains a serious issue.

Saxe disclosed that the four biggest sources of water contamination in the province are: raw municipal sewage from combined sewer overflows (CSOs), agricultural runoff, toxic industrial waste and road salt. Concrete measures should be undertaken to regulate them effectively.

Sewage from combined sewer overflows may be the worst culprit. In the occurrence of heavy rains, municipalities in the province see rainwater mixed with untreated sewage in antiquated sewer systems. As a result, they drain directly into water bodies, often in the same rivers and lakes where residents draw their drinking water. The more the water is polluted, the more difficult it is to find potable water for residents to drink. More municipalities are seeing the effects of polluted water. Sudbury and Waterloo, for example, are receiving high levels of sodium in their water supplies.

There are many approaches to cut down on instances where raw sewage spills onto the waterways. Upgrading the sewer systems is one solution although it is expensive. A good start would be to improve water conservation programs to reduce the amount of sewage heading into pipes from homes. Investing in green infrastructure will also help curb the problem as well as protecting the wetlands that could help absorb and filter urban runoff.

Last year, the City of Kingston was the first in Canada to install monitors in its pipes to measure how much sewage is being leaked. The city would report this to the public in real time. Jim Miller, Director of Utility Engineering for Utilities Kingston said that real-time monitoring was the best way to serve the public. The plan in the future is to eliminate all its combined storm and wastewater projects. Although this may take a while to implement, it would be the most effective solution in the long run, according to Miller.

Other cities have taken on the challenge. Victoria is spending $765 million to build a new treatment plant that will come online in 2020. Toronto is likewise embarking on a $3 billion multi-stage project. Frank Quarisa, Toronto’s Water acting General Manager said it will build overflow pipes to store excess water during storms until the treatment system can handle the additional water. The entire project is expected to be completed in 25 years. Toronto has been monitoring its inner harbors and found evidence of sewage contamination, so they are actively tracking sewage discharges to find the root cause and address the issue promptly.

Canadians are greatly dismayed when they hear about sewage problems so public reporting of the issue needs to be detailed and completed. Cities must also be required to continually monitor leaks to quickly stop the contamination of waterways.

If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.


Sewage Contamination of Ontario’s Waterways Remains an Issue
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