Last year the Canadian Water Network, with financial backing from Environment and Climate Change Canada, appointed an expert panel to conduct a national review of contaminants in municipal wastewater and the panel’s findings are now available in a new report, Canada’s Challenges and Opportunities to Address Contaminants in Wastewater.
“Wastewater management is critical to all Canadians,” says Dr. Donald Mavinic, panel chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia in a media release. “Over the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in contaminants in wastewater which can have adverse effects on public and environmental health.”
Canada’s wastewater systems have been designed to treat human organic waste. However, as the wastes generated by society have increased in complexity, so have the challenges of dealing with them.
Pathogens, nutrients, metals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics are some of the known and emerging contaminants of concern found in our wastewaters.
The panel was tasked with assessing which contaminants are priorities, whether treatment options are available, and the trade-offs and opportunities involved.
Wastewater treatment is highly varied across the country reflecting more than a century of solutions developed in response to different geographic settings.
Communities along coastlines, on the prairies, or in remote Northern locations have different needs, and the panel says that designing community-based solutions remains key. However, there is currently no national system in place to collect and share this information with municipalities or to share research results and innovation.
The panel notes that keeping contaminants out of municipal systems through source control is more effective than trying to remove them from wastewater.
They provide a blueprint for action with seven recommendations, including the need for an integrated watershed approach that is risk-based and informed by environmental monitoring. The blueprint also suggests government incentives to encourage communities to go beyond minimum standards, accelerate research and technology transfer, and favour solutions with meaningful co-benefits.
“We need to make smart and strategic investments in wastewater management now not 20 to 30 years from now. Canada should be investing in more research, community-based solutions and innovation. When there are additional benefits to gain such as reducing greenhouse gases, it’s a win-win situation.”