Chapter 1: Wastewater Effluent Regulations under the Fisheries Act
At each session, participants were presented with the following information:
Regulations would be applicable to all land-based wastewater systems that discharge effluent to surface water
Includes wastewater systems under municipal, provincial or federal government operation and those on federal land or on Aboriginal land
Environment Canada is considering a minimum flow of 10 m3 per day. Below this flow, the regulations would not apply.
Participants were asked the following question, which they discussed in plenary or in small groups:
- “What is your initial reaction to”:
- The minimum flow of 10 m3 per day?
Feedback from Participants and Written Submissions
Aboriginal Peoples and their Organizations
Many participants across the country were satisfied with how the proposed regulation would be applied, but at many sessions, concerns were raised over the issue of ownership. Participants expressed that First Nation communities likely have a different view on the ownership of wastewater treatment systems than the Federal government, and wanted clarification on ownership, and more broadly, respective roles and responsibilities. What Environment Canada heard about roles and responsibilities, and the issue of ownership, is covered in more detail in Chapter 4 – Overarching Themes.
A broad application to include private systems was endorsed at several sessions, where participants cited the specific examples of resource camps (e.g.: forestry and mining camps). They noted that resource camps set up by forestry and mining companies are larger than some First Nations communities. They felt that wastewater produced in these camps should also be managed according to the same rules as for communities. A related concern was raised in written comments, where it was noted that the metal mining sector is already subject to regulations that control certain parameters of the effluent. The submission requested clarity on how the domestic effluent from metal mines would be regulated.
In many sessions, there was no reaction to the proposal to set a minimum flow threshold for the regulations to apply. However, in several sessions from western regions, participants indicated that wastewater systems with ‘very small’ flows (e.g.: < 10 m3/day) should not be excluded from complying with the new regulations based only on flow. They felt that the environmental impacts of these flows, even if they are very small, should be assessed, citing an example of as many as 10 systems equivalent to 10 m3/day or less of flow each, all discharging to the same water body. Opposing views to this were also expressed: "Many Aboriginal communities consume less water than the rest of the Canadian population, which causes the concentration of harmful substances in their effluents to be higher. The water conservation measures should not penalize communities, which they may well do. "
Participants at many sessions were concerned that the regulations would only apply to discharges to surface water. Part of the concern was related to a lack of clarity on what would constitute surface water. For example, they cited the case of engineered wetlands, or treatment systems that include a discharge into a natural wetland as part of the overall sewage treatment process or a discharge to ditches and seasonal water bodies (creeks and sloughs) in drier climates in the Prairies. A participant from a western session was very concerned with the scope of the proposal. While general support was expressed for regulations that improve the environment, concerns were raised that the proposed effluent regulations were a “half measure”, narrowly focussed on discharges to surface water, which could not be supported.
A concern noted from a written submission indicated that not all First Nation peoples live on reserve, and that clarification was needed on how these people would be affected by the proposed CCME Strategy and the proposed regulations under the Fisheries Act.
Concerns were also raised about septic systems. Several participants felt that septic systems should not be excluded from the regulations, as in their experience these systems often malfunction and end up leaking into surface waters.
At least one participant requested clarification on how the minimum flow threshold would be applied, and how that would affect other aspects of the regulation. They indicated that there could be several or more systems that are currently < 10 m3/day, but that with community growth flows would likely exceed 10 m3/day within 30 years.
Municipalities and Organizations
Comments made by participants at the consultation session, and written submissions demonstrated a general acceptance of the application of the regulations across the country. In at least two regions, participants felt that the proposed regulation should also apply to onsite septic systems, and one participant advised that the regulation should also include the control of land-applied wastewater, in circumstances such as spray irrigation.
Questions were raised about the regulation as it applies to facility ownership. The general application to the federal house (federal departments, agencies, Aboriginal lands), as one of the regulated communities, was discussed with clarification that a discharge is considered the same regardless of whether it comes from land that is federal, territorial, provincial, municipal, private or self-governing. The application of the regulation to privately-owned systems was raised in two regions as an issue, in that it is different from the CCME Strategy, which will apply only to municipally owned systems. This was identified as an issue requiring further discussion with the provinces and territories as it relates to permitting, monitoring and reporting requirements and could become a resource issue.
One participant raised the issue of mobile treatment systems which are used for forest or mining camps, and wanted to know how the proposed regulation would apply to such facilities. A provincial representative at the session responded that a mobile treatment facility would today be permitted under the provincial regulations and would require an approval with each new location.
With respect to the minimum flow threshold of 10 m3/day, one province demonstrated support for the threshold, indicating that it was consistent with their province’s onsite regulations where onsite or private systems are those systems with a combined sewage and greywater flow of less than 10,000 litres per day (10 m3/day).
One submission on the EC Framework urged that the application section be expanded to apply to “dischargers of untreatable substances to a municipal sewer system” that exceed designated limits, suggesting that in effect, these “dischargers” are discharging deleterious substances to the receiving body of water, and are beyond the control of the municipality. They indicated that this would enable a municipality to initiate charges against persistent dischargers with greater impact than what could be obtained through municipal by-laws.
Two submissions suggested that there is ambiguity in what is included in the term "wastewater system". It was noted that the preamble in Section 1 of the framework document seems to suggest that the term includes treatment systems, collection system, SSO and CSO, but that the CCME Strategy clearly provides for different approaches towards CSO, suggesting that the EC Framework should also clearly define the difference.
Another submission indicated support to not regulate wet weather flows from CSOs during the spring thaw. It noted that these large flows of dilute cold effluent could adversely impact the biological processes at wastewater treatment plants, and that the washout of the biological process could take months to return to normal.
Federal Departments and Agencies
Comments and submissions from the representatives from federal departments and agencies were generally agreeable to the application of the proposed regulation and were generally in agreement with feedback from the other two streams.
A written submission provided some specific advice concerning wetlands. Environment Canada was advised that natural, augmented, or natural wetlands that are used for the treatment of wastewater should not be considered to be surface water.
Participants also identified an issue they felt required clarification. This was the definition and implications of industrial inputs into wastewater systems with flow of less than 10 m3/day. Participants were concerned that under the EC Framework, it could be difficult to determine whether a wastewater system is subject to the proposed regulation if it has a flow of less than 10 m3/day but also has an industrial input. They noted that this situation may apply to some wastewater systems serving federal laboratories.
 Untreatable substances: Substances that are not removed or only partially removed by secondary treatment. These may include, among other things, certain pharmaceuticals and personal care products, as well as certain organic compounds and metals.
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