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UPDATE: Council raises concerns with Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations

The Harper government has proposed new ‘Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations’. The stated objectives of these new regulations include, “standards for national wastewater effluent quality” and “regulatory clarity for rules on reporting” by wastewater facilities. Environment Minister Jim Prentice says it’s the government taking steps “to make sure Canadians continue to enjoy water that is clean, safe and plentiful for generations to come.”

In terms of actions, a federal government communication notes that, “For higher-risk wastewater effluent discharges, facilities will have up until 2020 to upgrade, whereas others would have until 2030 or 2040 depending on level of risk associated with existing effluent quality and environmental considerations.” And in terms of funding, they note that, “The Government of Canada is partnering with provinces, territories and municipalities to make significant investments in water and wastewater infrastructure. Under Government of Canada infrastructure funds, including the Building Canada, Green Infrastructure, Stimulus and Gas Tax Funds, over $3.25 billion has been spent or committed for wastewater and water infrastructure. Such projects are a top priority for these funds.”

These proposed regulations were announced on March 19 and the 60-day public comment period has just closed. Meera Karunananthan, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, recently submitted our comments on these regulations. Our comments highlight that, “The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that Canadian municipalities currently face a water and wastewater infrastructure deficit of $31 billion. These regulations would raise that deficit considerably, but offers no strategy to increase funding to municipalities for the purpose of improving wastewater infrastructure. The only federal source of funding remains the Building Canada Fund, which is grossly insufficient to meet the basic needs for water and sanitation upgrades, let alone the new requirements of the proposed regulations.”

We also note that, “The government’s regulatory impact analysis statement describes the need to harmonize Canadian wastewater standards with those of the Europe Union. European municipalities are facing financial constraints in meeting EU standards – something that was recently identified in the Global Water Intelligence, a yearly industry report, as an opportunity for investment in wastewater infrastructure. With Canada currently negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, which has the backing of the French water corporation Suez, the Council of Canadians fears that a lack of adequate funding and capacity building for public wastewater services, will leave the door wide open to European water corporations seeking investments in Canada.”

Given the 60 day comment period is clearly insufficient, and “given the vital importance of water and wastewater services, the Council of Canadians is calling for full public consultation and a process to involve Indigenous communities and local governments in developing a strategy to address wastewater treatment needs throughout the country.”

Read the full text of our submission here. Government documents on the regulations, http://policymonitor.ca/natural-resources/agriculture/canada-wastewater-systems-effluent-regulations/ and http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2010/2010-03-20/html/reg1-eng.html.