Canadian Consulting Engineer

Ministers to bring in national standards for sewage treatment plants

December 3, 2007
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

A new Canada-wide strategy for controlling the quality and quantity of effluent from municipal and community wastew...

A new Canada-wide strategy for controlling the quality and quantity of effluent from municipal and community wastewater treatment plants is close to its final form.
The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) is seeking final comments on the Draft Canada-Wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent until January 31, 2008.
Once that feedback is taken into account, the proposed strategy will be submitted to the ministers for approval. Environment Canada is to present the proposed regulatory framework for enactment under the Fisheries Act. Formal agreements will be negotiated between the federal and provincial governments as to how the strategy will be implemented.
The framework is being developed by CCME — a council of the 14 different ministers of the environment from all provinces and territories in Canada — as a way to provide “consistency and clarity to the wastewater sector.” The industry currently has to operate under a confusing range of different policies and rules that might be imposed by all three levels of government — the federal, provincial and municipal levels. The new national strategy aims to establish a “one-window approach to governance … so operators and facility owners deal with a single regulatory agency,” says the draft strategy released September 2007.
The cost implications for municipalities of implementing the program were taken into account, says CCME, but it says compliance will come with a heavy price tag. “In total, the estimated capital and non-capital costs to meet the National Performance Standards over 30 years range from $10.3 billion to $13.1 billion,” says the draft (page 7).
Municipal wastewater is one of the largest sources of pollution by volume that is discharged to surface water bodies in Canada.
The 3,500 facilities that collect and release waste range from providing no treatment at all, to simple screening, to state of the art, high-tech plants. The total treated effluent discharged from these plants amounts to more than 3 trillion litres every year. Wastewater plants take in and process not only human and organic waste, but also waste from industrial and commercial buildings. In some cases, stormwater is also collected in combined sewers. All in all these plants can release many substances that they cannot remove.
The new framework will address the management of quality and quantity of effluent from plants on a site specific basis. The size of a facility will be taken into account, as will the presence of industries feeding into the system. The requirements imposed will depend on the receiving environment as well.
The strategy’s environmental risk management model covers nitrogen and phosphorous. It sets treatment performance criteria for carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids and total residual chlorine.
All wastewater facilities in Canada – some 3,500 – will be required to monitor their effluent discharges and report the results to the public at least once a year. The only exception will be reporting discharges during storm overflow events. These will be monitored on a site-specific basis.
The strategy will not apply to cold or arctic areas. Alternative standards for these areas are to be proposed in five years’ time.
According to the proposed timeline, wastewater plant owners will have five years to complete environmental risk assessments and come up with their specific effluent discharge objectives.
All the consultation materials on the draft strategy can be downloaded from


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