York Region and Durham Region (the Regions) have proposed an expansion to the York-Durham Sewage System (YDSS) that would significantly expand the volume of sewage entering Lake Ontario through the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) in Pickering. The Duffin Creek WPCP is jointly owned by the Regional Municipalities of York and Durham and is located in the City of Pickering on the shores of Lake Ontario. York Region, where the increased sewage flow will originate, claims that the expansion is required to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and industrial demand in places like Richmond Hill, Aurora, Markham, Newmarket, Holland Landing, and Vaughan.
Raw sewage that enters Lake Ontario through Combined Sewer Outflows and Sewage Bypass events at treatment plants are well known sources of pollution. However, effluent emitted to the lake after treatment at a facility like Duffin Creek, where only secondary treatment is used, can also be a significant source of contamination. Levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in treated effluent can remain high, causing algal blooms and accelerated eutrophication in lakes. Untreated metals and pharmaceuticals threaten aquatic health and can bioaccumulate in the ecosystem.
The Environmental Assessment and subsequent Ministerial Review focused on one section of the proposed sewer instead of the expansion as a whole. It therefore failed to consider impacts of the project on Lake Ontario on the grounds that those impacts are outside the scope of the EA. This is a fundamental procedural error that fails to apply an ecosystem approach in accordance with the Ministry of the Environment’s Statement of Environmental Values.
The MOE is legally obligated to evaluate the SEC Trunk Sewer EA in the context of cumulative ecological effects of the project. The Minister cannot approve the project without first measuring and evaluating the effect of the proposal as it impacts the environment, including Lake Ontario. It makes no logical sense to consider a major sewer expansion without including the destination of the sewage in the evaluation. It is not in keeping with the SEVs for the Ministry to limit the EA to the pipe itself without regard for where the contents of that pipe will be conveyed to, or whether or not the assumed destination can accommodate the increased sewage flow.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submitted a request, pursuant to subsection 7.2(3) of the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, for the Minister of the Environment to refer the Southeast Collector Trunk Sewer proposal to the Environmental Review Tribunal for a hearing.
In the alternative, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper recommends that the Minister refuse to give approval to the application, in accordance with subsection 9(1)(c) of the EAA, on the basis of procedural errors in the environmental assessment that are so severe that the EA activities carried out thus far may not fulfil the requirements of the EAA.