Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's comment on the CCME's Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent
The entire submission is available for download here.
The Fisheries Act is one of Canada's oldest laws. Passed in 1868, its historical purpose has been the protection of fisheries nationwide. In more recent years, as the consequences of habitat destruction and pollution became better understood, prohibitions against the destruction of fish habitat and the deposit of deleterious substances were added to the original Act. These sections create some of the most powerful clean water protection tools in Canadian law.
The power of the Fisheries Act stems from its enforceable, blanket prohibition against water pollution. The only exception to the prohibition against water pollution occurs when the federal government creates a special regulation. Each time a new regulation is created, so is a new standard for a particular industry. This new standard may be for more stringent or less stringent, depending on the content of the regulation.
Waterkeeper supports any new standard that is at least as protective and at least as transparent and easily enforced as the current prohibition. We are concerned that this proposed regulation under s.36 of the Fisheries Act, however, replaces the blanket prohibition against pollution with a licencing regime that (a) may for the first time sanction the deposit of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish and (b) duplicates provincial regulatory regimes. These two concerns can be easily alleviated if (a) the prohibition against the deposit of deleterious substances is maintained in addition to the new regulatory objectives, and (b) the federal government remains an independent protector of fish and fish habitat and does not become the primary regulator of municipal wastewater systems.
Our concerns are not new to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Waterkeeper submitted our comments and concerns in partnership with other members of Waterkeeper Alliance in Canada on March 1, 2007. Many of our fellow Waterkeepers, as well as Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, attended consultation sessions in the months since then.
As the CCME notes, wastewater effluent is the biggest environmental issue affecting Canadians at the grassroots level. It is, â€œone of the largest sources of pollution, by volume, discharged to surface water bodies in Canada.â€ Every community must address challenges associated with wastewater collection and treatment. Every major waterway is in some way impacted by poorly treated wastewater. For this reason, Waterkeepers respectfully encourage the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to consider Canadians' rights to safely swim, drink and fish from every water body in this nation â€¦ and to proceed only with a regulation that protects or restores those rights for every person, on every waterbody, in every community.
For comments on the drafted strategy, see the entire submission, available for download here.