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Mohawk water defenders protest Trudeau government permitting sewage to be dumped in the St. Lawrence River

St. Lawrence River

The City of Montreal began dumping 8 billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River last night.

It has been argued that the release is needed to allow construction crews to repair a snowbelt collector underneath the Bonaventure Expressway. CTV Montreal explains, “The snowmelt collector near the Bonaventure Expressway needs to be repaired because sections of its supporting structure are falling off and flowing downstream, into the main sewage treatment plant for half of the residents on the island. The collector also lies too close to where the lowered Bonaventure Expressway will run. Work to fix the collector cannot take place while water is flowing through the large pipes, and so about 18 months ago the city came up with the plan to divert wastewater directly into the St. Lawrence at two dozen locations.”

There has been scientific opposition to this plan.

CBC reports, “Dr. Grant Brown, a Concordia University biologist specializing in aquatic behavioural and chemical ecology, said the untreated effluent could cause harm to a number of aquatic species. Brown said fish rely on chemical cues to help them perform tasks such as finding food, finding shelter and detecting and avoiding predators — tasks that are necessary for survival. The wastewater going into the river could throw them off. ‘You’re depriving an entire ecological community of a source of information. It would be akin to [us deciding] to put a dome over the city and completely paint it black, so nobody could see’, Brown said.”

That article adds, “Civil engineer Isabelle Jallifier-Verne said any human waste carried by the current could have negative consequences for communities downstream from Montreal. She said the effluent could also pollute the river banks, potentially posing a threat to the plant and animal life that live along the water’s edge. Water-treatment specialist Abdelaziz Gherrou said there’s no telling how extensive the environmental toll of untreated wastewater would be. ‘Why have we put in place water-filtration plants if the water can dilute everything?’ Gherrou asked.”

There has also been Indigenous opposition to the dumping of the sewage into the river.

Another CBC report notes, “[On Oct. 10], the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake issued a statement urging Montreal to reconsider the plan to dump the sewage into the river as part of the project to dismantle the Bonaventure Expressway. The council proposed that a special pump be employed to bypass the construction area and and suggested that a holding tank be put into use to allow solid matter to settle. ‘An alternative solution will inevitably be more costly but we suggest that the larger environmental cost be considered in your decision making’, read the release…”

Additionally, that article highlighted, “About a dozen Mohawks from Kahnawake assembled near the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks [on Oct. 15] to voice their opposition to Montreal’s plan to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. …’The release of the equivalent of 2,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools will result in unknown contamination and multi-generational devastation of the entire ecosystem’, [Akohserake] Deer said, reading from a statement. …Another protester, Iakosti Rareh, also offered an impassioned plea for the St. Lawrence on behalf of the group. ‘The river is our life’, she said, adding that the waterway is not exclusively a Mohawk concern.”

But yesterday the Globe and Mail reported, “The new federal Environment Minister [Catherine McKenna] has granted Montreal permission to dump billions of litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River so the city can make critical repairs to its waste-water system. …The work, which involves pouring a billion litres of sewage into the river a day, is expected to last a week and must be completed by Dec. 5.”

The article adds, “Ms. McKenna imposed a handful of conditions on the sewage spill, including that the city improve water-quality monitoring, as well as cleanup and emergency response plans, and consult more with First Nations communities along the riverbank. …[A report commissioned by the previous Harper government], released Friday, said the planned dump could cause harm, but an unplanned release [especially when the fish were spawning] triggered by a possible system failure if the sewage system breaks down would be more harmful. This dump will be the third time in eight years that Montreal has poured billions of litres of sewage into the river. The report suggested future mitigation efforts, and Ms. McKenna said the city will participate in an Environment Canada review to find better ways to handle future repairs.”

CTV Montreal reported late last night, “About a dozen demonstrators blocked Rte. 132 with a banner saying ‘Save our River’ and waving Mohawk and Kahnawake flags. …The protesters say they plan to stay there until the dump begins at midnight.” CBC adds, “Around 40 people, some carrying a banner reading ‘Save Our River’, gathered at the foot of the Montreal-area Mercier Bridge to protest the dumping of eight billion litres of untreated wastewater into the St. Lawrence River.” And Reclaim Turtle Island tweeted last night, “Save Our River!! Kaniaterawana’on:we is being protected.”

The untreated wastewater began flowing into the St. Lawrence River at around midnight.