The ECO recommends that the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks insert, into the environmental compliance approval of every municipality that has a combined sewer system, a legal obligation to adopt a public Pollution Prevention Control Plan to virtually eliminate combined sewer overflows within a reasonable time, and the MECP should enforce these plans,
-- 2018 Environmental Protection Report, Back to Basics: Clean Water, page 70
Ontarians who care about clean water - which is basically everyone - got a show of support from the province’s independent environmental commissioner today. When Dianne Saxe released Back to Basics, her third annual report this morning, she called on the province to do more to protect urban waters.
An entire section of the Commissioner’s report examines combined sewage pollution in Ontario. It lists the 44 communities where raw sewage mixes with stormwater and flows into local creeks and rivers.
The report describes Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s 2014 application to bring better sewage spill reporting to Toronto, noting that it took the city “considerable time to implement a public notification process for bypasses.” It goes on to describe how Kingston remains the only city in Ontario with automated, real-time sewage overflow alerts.
The report singles out participation from the public - including citizens and charities - for a growing effort to address this decades-old problem.
The public does not usually know when or where combined sewage overflows occur, at least until the Medical Officer of Health closes a local beach because of its contamination. In the meantime, people or pets could have been exposed to the contamination. As a result of public use of the Environmental Bill of Rights, this is starting to change.
-- Page 66
That’s a powerful statement of support for the many, many people who have spoken out against sewage pollution in Toronto and around Ontario recently. As the Commissioner noted, officials have been turning a blind eye to sewage pollution for years because “we don’t want to pay for it.”
Saxe’s report goes on to suggest that sewage pollution from combined sewer overflows may often be illegal and urges the province to crack down on sewage polluters.
Her comments come just a week after we released the results of our Toronto Harbour monitoring project. In the four months that we sampled this summer, we found sky-high levels of bacteria and nauseating sewage debris floating in the harbour on a regular basis.
The City of Toronto says monitoring isn’t necessary because they “already know” that sewage pollution is a problem. We keep trying to explain that thousands of people are boating, sailing, and surfing in the Harbour. They don’t just need to know that sewage pollution can be a problem; they need to know when and where it’s a problem.
Legally enforceable rules from the province would ensure that cities like Toronto finally open up to the public, make a commitment to clean water, and implement pollution prevention plans that measurably improve our waters. This is a defining moment for Toronto, and for Ontario.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Saxe told the reporters assembled at Queen’s Park this morning.
We wholeheartedly agree.