Motion No. 425
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should support the undertaking of a country-wide program of improving the treatment of municipal sewage to a minimum standard of at least that of primary treatment facilities.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to my motion before the House today.
The motion deals with the need for the government to support the undertaking of a country-wide program of improving the treatment of municipal sewage to a minimum standard of at least that of primary sewage facilities. The motion is about setting a minimum standard right across Canada for sewage treatment.
As Canadians we often take for granted the vastness and magnificence of our environment. As much as we struggle to balance environmental with industrial and economic concerns we hold our environment in high esteem.
Reform environmental policy supports the balance between environmental and economic concerns and encourages Canadians to develop, renew and conserve our resources and environment to ensure the next generation inherits an environment equal to or better than that which the last generation received.
Essential to a clean and healthy environment are clean rivers, oceans and water bodies. When our water bodies are threatened with over pollution it hurts our environment, our fisheries, our economy, tourism, industry and municipal growth.
For these reasons municipal sewage facilities, set at a minimum level of primary treatment, are essential to maintaining and protecting our environment. That is why I am introducing the motion today.
I will give some background on the state of sewage treatment in Canada today to illustrate why the motion is necessary.
In most provinces the provincial government sets the standard for sewage treatment and for disposal of municipal solid waste and provides the regulatory function. Municipalities are responsible for the actual treatment of sewage and for collection and disposal of garbage. In 1993 approximately 57 per cent of Canadians were served by waste water treatment plants. That compares with 74 per cent for the Americans, 86 per cent for the Germans and over 90 per cent for the Swedes. We are obviously well behind.
Many cities have lagoon facilities which provide minimum treatment. Waste water flows through the lagoon, allowing long residence times for the settling of solids and the microbial degradation of organic matter. This is basically a system where raw sewage, less the solids, is dumped directly into the ocean or water basin with no treatment. This is the system used in the city of Victoria as well as in Halifax. We have the problem on both coasts. I will discuss the objections to this system of dealing with sewage later on.
Victoria is the only city from Alaska to the Mexican border which still dumps untreated sewage into the ocean.
I will give a quick summary of the three types of sewage treatment which include primary, secondary and tertiary treatment facilities. Primary treatment, which I am calling for, is the most basic stage of sewage treatment and is the minimum level I propose in my motion. Primary treatment involves the settling and chlorination stage prior to effluent discharge.
A more advanced stage of treatment is secondary treatment, which uses an activated sludge process to hasten the rate of waste water treatment. Large masses of actively growing bacteria are retained in large tanks and fed waste water. High levels of mixing and aeration facilitate microbial action.
Treated water then goes through a settling stage to remove the micro organisms and is chlorinated prior to release to the receiving body of water. Edmonton, Fredericton, Hamilton and Winnipeg use this more advanced form of waste water treatment on the majority of their municipal sewage.
Tertiary treatment is the most sophisticated form of water treatment practised in Canada. An anaerobic microbial fermentation step is added after the activated sludge process. The final effluent is relatively clean and in desert areas such as Israel is used directly for crop irrigation. Tertiary waste water treatment is used in Calgary, Kitchener, London, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Sudbury and Toronto. In the maritime provinces a large percentage of municipalities do not have any sewage treatment and tertiary treatment is virtually non-existent.
The annual volume of untreated sewage in this country would cover the entire 7,800 kilometre Trans-Canada highway to a depth of nine metres. That is a lot of you know what, Mr. Speaker.
The effects of raw sewage dumping are being debated in cities such as Halifax and Victoria, which both discharge sewage into large water basins. In cities such as Regina, which dumps into small rivers, the effects are potentially disastrous. Sewage removes so much oxygen from the water that fish cannot survive and decomposing sewage may render the water undrinkable.
The government is in the process of major infrastructure spending with funds initially targeted for projects such as sewage treatment facilities, roads and water lines. Many towns and cities remain without any sewage treatment while tax dollars are being directed toward art centres and hockey rinks. Where are the priorities?
The government has made some significant promises regarding sewage treatment facilities in the country. The Liberal red book states on pages 66 and 67:
One of the country's biggest sources of water degradation is untreated municipal sewage, aggravated by decades of neglect of sewage and water treatment infrastructure. A Liberal government would assist provincial, regional, and municipal governments to finance new or renewed municipal sewage and water treatment infrastructure. This federal commitment would be conditional on municipalities encouraging water conservation and developing a sound financial regime for infrastructure maintenance in the future.
Federal assistance to municipalities for sewage treatment has been discussed in the House for over 25 years. In 1960 amendments to the National Housing Act provided for federal aid for municipal sewage projects to be administered by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Up to two-thirds of the cost of projects would be lent by the federal government. Municipalities would have to repay only 75 per cent of the loan if sewage work was completed by 1963.
The purpose of the 1960 legislation was to provide incentive to make an early start on these problems while it was still relatively inexpensive. Municipal sewage became an ongoing problem with annual allocations of $50 million to $75 million administered by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The system was put into place 25 years ago, yet today Canada remains with almost half of its residents without any sewage treatment whatsoever. Now costs have skyrocketed. The longer municipalities wait, the more expensive it will become.
Despite efforts to date there are several reasons sewage remains untreated in many areas. One reason is Canada's large land mass and relatively low population which often mitigate the need for expensive, centralized sewage treatment facilities.
Another reason for the low level of sewage treatment is that many Canadian communities located adjacent to oceans and large rivers discharge raw sewage directly into water bodies, as in some cases the solution is to simply dilute the sewage.
In small amounts this may not harm the environment as organic matter can supply nutrition to aquatic organisms and benefit the fishery. However, once communities reach the municipal size, primary sewage treatment should be a requirement.
If we do not encourage a minimum standard of primary sewage treatment we risk damage to the environment, tourism, recreation, fisheries and health. In large amounts raw sewage can devastate the area by drastically degrading water quality, limiting dissolved oxygen levels, harming marine life, polluting shorelines, removing areas from recreational use and endangering human health.
The Liberal Party has recognized that a national waste water program exists and has pledged financial assistance to provincial, regional and municipal governments to finance new or renewed municipal sewage and water treatment infrastructure, but infrastucture spending is bypassing much needed sewer upgrades.
For example, Halifax and Victoria are still without any sewage treatment while at the same time government spent over $12 million in infrastructure funds for improvements to the Olympic Saddledome in Calgary and a hockey rink in Winnipeg.
In the big picture, basic infrastructure such as water and sewage treatment clearly has to take precedence. It is time for the government to renew its commitment to the public. Infrastructure spending should be targeted to local improvements which would benefit the entire community, not just a select few.
Clearly the biggest problem is expense and we all know it. There is no doubt that sewage treatment upgrading will require additional funding. When we look at the environment, environmental costs must be weighed with economic costs. In many instances taking action will be far more economically beneficial than the costs of the long term environmental damage of doing nothing.
Effective municipal waste treatment facilities are an expensive proposition for any municipality as they involve the provision of basic infrastructure as well as treatment facilities.
To counteract the cost, some cities such as the city of Toronto have proposed user pay fees on sewage discharge. That is one way to collect for the cost of cleanup and upgrading. It is one of the many options that warrants consideration.
In deciding which areas necessitate primary sewage treatment facilities, the environmental benefits of treatment must equal or outweigh the environmental costs. I am not proposing that all towns and cities undertake a program of primary treatment because there are many towns that are too small to benefit from sewage treatment programs.
For example, towns with small populations often do not generate enough waste to necessitate sewage treatment facilities. My proposal applies only to the minimum standard of municipalities which by definition have a minimum population of 1,000 residents.
Many studies have shown that secondary or tertiary forms of treatment are not necessary in all cases. In Victoria, for example, studies concluded that the treatment of waste water discharge into the strait would provide no appreciable health or environmental gain to the city or to the strait and that primary treatment was all that was necessary. That is what I am calling for in my motion.
Provincial governments have known about the bio-hazard of municipal sewage for generations, but many choose to ignore the problem. Concerns with the volume of minimally treated waste water were first identified in 1975. Yet many municipalities routinely fail to comply with permits on the discharge of sewage from outfalls.
The Fraser River is B.C.'s most endangered watershed with a sewage discharge amounting to 450 billion litres per year. If one were to package the sewage into one-litre milk cartons and pile them one on top of each other, a year's discharge would extend to the planet Mars and back with enough left over for 100 side trips to the moon. That is a lot of fertilizer.
Federal fisheries scientist analysed discharges from the sewage outfall at Iona Island on the Fraser in 1985 and found 200 toxic substances, many of them persistent and some with the ability to increase in concentration and toxicity as they migrate up the food chain.
Other substances identified are associated with organ damage, birth defects, cancer and second or third generation reproductive collapse in both humans and wildlife. Obviously these substances simply cannot continue to be dumped into the Fraser. I am pleased to report that one of the larger infrastructure projects of the government involves upgrading the Fraser sewage treatment facility.
A report by the World Wildlife Fund said sewage plants in Ontario and Quebec were receiving, along with billions of litres of waste water, about 100 tonnes of industrial metals and
chemicals each year. This discharge can cause serious damage to the ecosystem and contaminate drinking water.
Provinces such as Ontario have been working on developing effluent quality standards for sewage plants but nothing concrete has developed to date. Six years ago the federal and Nova Scotia governments agreed to deal with the untreated sewage flowing directly into Halifax harbour. Concern was raised seven years ago that the lack of sewage treatment facilities in the harbour would have long term consequences on the fisheries and on growth and investment in the metropolitan area.
Over 30 million gallons of untreated sewage enter Halifax harbour waters every day, with close to 20 per cent of this inflow classified as industrial in origin. This has resulted in documented levels of toxic contamination of the harbour waters.
This sewage and waste dumping into Halifax harbour present health hazards on top of the aesthetic problems with the harbour mired in sewage. The Nova Scotia government and Canada entered into an agreement in September 1988 to upgrade existing sewage infrastructure in the Halifax-Dartmouth area.
The agreement recognized that:
Even though the provision of municipal sewer services is fundamentally a provincial-municipal responsibility, Canada and the province recognize that the current state of sewage infrastructure in Halifax-Dartmouth is of urgent concern and justifies assistance on the basis of a regional development priority; and a significant portion of waste water is generated by federal facilities in the Halifax-Dartmouth metropolitan area.
Some $200 million was set aside to build a sewage treatment facility in Halifax, yet today the project is at almost a complete standstill with over $20 million sunk into consulting and with Halifax no closer to a primary sewage treatment facility. This is where the G-7 conference took place.
Today the estimated cost has doubled to over $400 million, twice that which was first estimated six years ago. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be.
Now the Nova Scotia government and the federal government are wondering how it will come up with the extra money. After several promises that this will be completed they appear to be backtracking on their promises. Again I go back to the G-7.
Halifax harbour is but one example of the status of sewage facilities throughout the country. It is now commonplace to hear each summer which beaches are open and which beaches are closed due to high concentrations of fecal chloroform. Now is the time to deal with the problem.
In conclusion, I hope all members will support Motion No. 425 to undertake a country wide program of improving the treatment of municipal sewage to a minimum standard of at least that of primary treatment facilities.