Of all the water issues in the country, sewage pollution is the one that gets me most worked up for one reason: it is totally unnecessary.
Everything we do is sustained by our lakes – drinking, growing food, recreation. Yet that’s where we put our waste.
Sewage contains bacteria, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and microplastics - all of these pollutants are devastating to the Great Lakes.
During storms, the sheer force of wastewater bursting from sewer outfalls alone scours life from our urban waterways like nothing else.
What’s more troubling is our cities know exactly what they need to do to prevent sewage pollution:
- More use of porous, natural surfaces would absorb and filter rain.
- Greater capacity would prevent stormwater and sewage from overflowing into our waterways.
- Modern treatment systems would discharge wastewater that is swimmable, drinkable, and capable of supporting life.
Our engineers and planners know how to do all of these things.
And yet, it’s not happening.
I realized how bad things had become during the 2013 Toronto flood. More than 1-billion litres of sewage flowed into Lake Ontario. Flooding caused $1-billion in damage.
July 8, 2013 was one of the most economically and environmentally devastating days in our city’s history.
And yet we don’t talk about it.
Earlier this summer, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper asked the Ontario government to review Toronto’s failure to alert the public when it dumps partially-treated sewage into Lake Ontario.
Our concern was obviously the enormous amount of untreated and partially treated sewage that flows into Lake Ontario and city ravines every time there is a heavy rain (not just during freak storms).
But what alarmed us most was the utter lack of public notice. City waters had unprecedented levels of bacteria and not one public alert went out.
We need to talk about this.
We’re thrilled that the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change agreed to review Toronto’s public reporting practices. We’re optimistic that the Ministry may even expand its review to consider other municipalities with similar issues.
That’s a start.
When I journey to Ottawa this weekend, I’ll be looking for other people who want to talk about sewage. And infrastructure. And the need to give people accurate information, even on the bad days – especially on the bad days.
Want to join the conversation?