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Canada dictates secondary treatment for all sewage systems

The federal government has implemented regulations that will require an estimated 25% of communities and municipalities to upgrade their wastewater systems. One estimate suggests that there will be $20 billion spent on rebuilding and replacing...


The federal government has implemented regulations that will require an estimated 25% of communities and municipalities to upgrade their wastewater systems. One estimate suggests that there will be $20 billion spent on rebuilding and replacing plants to meet the regulations over the next 30 years.

The announcement was made by Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, on July 18 in Delta, B.C.

It is the first time that Canada’s government has set national standards for sewage treatment. The government worked with the provinces, territories and municipalities to finalize the regulations, which require all systems to have at least secondary treatment, said Kent. While 75% of the systems in Canada already have secondary treatment, the remainder will need to have it installed.

The government has set a timetable for compliance that depends on the degree of risk to the environment. Systems that are rated as high risk must meet the new standards by 2020. Those posing medium risk have until 2030, and those with low risk don’t need to comply until the end of 2040.

Municipalities are concerned about how they will find the money to upgrade their plants. Kent estimates approximately 850 systems need the work.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the costs should be added to the federal Long Term Infrastructure Plan which is due to be in place by 2014. “The new costs are above and beyond what municipalities already need to maintain and expand core infrastructure,” FCM notes. The federation points out: “Municipalities are responsible for over 50% of the country’s infrastructure, but collect just eight cents of every tax-dollar paid in Canada.”

FCM estimates that the upgrades will cost at least $20 billion. It says: “Over the next three decades, the regulations will require communities to rebuild or replace more than one out of every four wastewater treatment systems across the country. Many municipalities, particularly in small communities, will require federal assistance to develop and enact these mandatory regulations. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants is expected to cost at least $20 billion, which does not include system-wide upgrades required to meet the regulations.”

At the same time, FCM supports the guidelines, saying they will protect our rivers, oceans and land, with a “workable set of rules.”