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Reducing wastewater pollution

Target 3.7: Freshwater quality – Reduce risks associated with wastewater effluent by 2020 in collaboration with provinces and territories (Note: risk reduction for wastewater effluent relates both to freshwater and marine).

The percentage of Canadians on municipal sewers with secondary wastewater treatment or better has improved from 40% in 1983 to 69% in 2009.

Beginning in 2013, the loading of Biological Oxygen Demand matter and suspended solids for all wastewater systems subject to the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations will be tracked, and a baseline for reporting will be established in 2015.

The federal government has worked with all levels of government and through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to finalize the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER) in 2012. The regulations will phase out the release of untreated and undertreated sewage into waterways, and align Canadian standards with those of the United States and the European Union. It is expected that about 75% of existing wastewater systems already meet the minimum secondary wastewater treatment standards in the regulations. Communities and municipalities, including First Nations, that meet the standards will not need to make upgrades to their systems. The other 25% will have to upgrade to at least secondary wastewater treatment. Wastewater systems requiring upgrades will have until the end of 2020, 2030 or 2040, based on risk, to achieve the effluent quality standards.

For additional information on the implementation strategies that support this target, please consult the following website: Environment Canada.

Progress towards Target 3.7: Municipal wastewater treatment (interim indicator)

The percentage of Canadians on municipal sewers with secondary wastewater treatment or better has improved from 40% in 1983 to 69% in 2009, as shown by Figure 3.9. This leaves approximately 18% of Canadians who rely on primary treatment or less, and another 13% of Canadians using household septic systems to treat their sewage.

For the most up-to-date information on this indicator, please visit CESI.

Figure 3.9: Wastewater treatment levels, Canada, 1983 to 2009

Wastewater treatment levels, Canada, 1983 to 2009

Long description

The bar chart shows the percentage of the Canadian population with different levels of municipal wastewater treatment between 1983 and 2009. There are five treatment categories: no treatment, primary treatment, secondary treatment, tertiary treatment and septic systems or haulage. The percentage of Canadians on municipal sewers with secondary treatment or better has improved from 40% in 1983 to 69% in 2009, leaving approximately 18% with primary treatment or less and another 13% of Canadians using household septic systems to treat their sewage. No data is available for 2001 as there were not enough respondents to produce meaningful results.

Future indicators

By 2015, those wastewater systems achieving and not achieving the effluent quality standards will be tracked through an online, electronic reporting system.

Beginning in 2013, the loading of Biological Oxygen Demand matter and suspended solids for all wastewater systems subject to the WSER will be tracked through an online, electronic reporting system. The baseline for reporting on this indicator (and the indicator above) will be established in 2015. Information for these indicators will be available on the CESI website at a later date.


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