Toronto inches closer to better sewage pollution notification system; Ontario Environment Ministry launches review in response to Waterkeeper application (Press Release)
- Under-treated sewage flows into Lake Ontario nearly every week, all year round in Toronto
- Sewage bypasses and spills happen because the city’s wastewater treatment system is too old and too small to keep up with urban growth and climate change
- Waterkeeper filed a legal application under the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights asking that the City of Toronto be required to alert the public during sewage bypasses and spills so that people can avoid polluted areas
- Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change announced this week that a review is now underway
September 11, 2014 (Toronto) -- Toronto residents may soon receive alerts when sewage pollution affects Lake Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment announced Wednesday that it will review concerns Lake Ontario Waterkeeper raised in a submission filed earlier this summer under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
When heavy rains overwhelm the city’s sewer system, partially-treated sewage flows into LakeOntario. Human contact with sewage-contaminated water can result in serious health concerns including eye, ear, nose, throat infections.
Thousands of people paddle, sail, and surf near the Humber and Ashbridges Bay wastewater treatment plants. Waterkeeper argued that the public should be alerted during sewage spills so people can steer clear of polluted areas until water quality improves.
“We asked for the review so that Toronto residents will be able to protect themselves during sewage bypasses and spills. The public should have access to basic water quality information in real-time, especially when it affects their health,” says environmental lawyer Mark Mattson.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper initially asked the Ministry to review the City of Toronto’s sewage treatment plant operating licenses. In its decision, the Ministry indicated it will broaden its review to include “public reporting about water quality issues during severe weather events.”
“We are happy with the Ministry’s decision,” says Mattson, noting that it reflects the Ministry’s increased focus on climate change. “Severe weather events are happening more frequently. That means flooding and bypasses are a growing concern,” says Mattson.
“I realized the urgency of the issue when 1.19-billion litres of partially-treated sewage ended up in Lake Ontario during the July 2013 storm. The public was never warned about water quality problems. City of Toronto spokespeople downplayed the spill. I am optimistic that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change will take this issue seriously, and that the public will be better protected as a result.”
The results of the Ministry’s review are expected by March 9, 2015. In the meantime, Waterkeeper will continue to work for swimmable water and look for innovative ways to protect Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is a Canadian charity working for a day when every person in our watershed can safely touch the water, when the water is pure enough to drink, and when the lake is clean and wild enough that you could toss in a line anywhere and pull out a fish: www.waterkeeper.ca.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper created the Swim Guide, a popular smartphone app that helps people find clean beaches across Canada and the USA: www.theswimguide.org.
Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change announced on September 10, 2014 that it will review public reporting about water quality issues during severe weather events. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper triggered the review with a legal application filed in July under theEnvironmental Bill of Rights. Currently, sewage bypasses happen about three times a month, all year round. Sewage in the water means that people who are paddling, surfing, and boating could get sick - and they don’t even know it. Waterkeeper realized how serious the problem was after the massive storm one year ago knocked out power at the Humber River treatment plant. Sewage flowed into Lake Ontario for 28 hours and the city failed to alert residents. The charity is hoping big cities like Toronto will start issuing bypass alerts just like cold weather or heat advisories. The Ministry has until March 9, 2015 to complete its review.
Ontario government to review need for public alerts when severe weather events threaten water quality @LOWaterkeeper #swimdrinkfish #EBR
Do you swim, paddle, surf, row, or sail Toronto’s waterfront? The Ontario government just launched a review that will help protect your health #swimdrinkfish #EBR
SAMPLE SEWAGE ALERT