While environmental headlines may tend to focus on the issue du jour (PFAS, plastics, microbeads, etc.), we still have plenty of older, unresolved environmental issues that require our attention. However, we have made some significant progress along the way.
Old Sewer Systems
There was another reminder about the problems we continue to have with infrastructure, specifically our aging sewers and outdated combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
24-Billion-Litre Spill over Four Years
According to the CBC, “A new report says Hamilton doesn’t have to remediate Cootes Paradise after a four-year, 24-billion-litre sewage and stormwater leak, and one councillor says it’s a ‘damning’ sign of the sad state of the water.”
The report goes on to lament that the 24 billion-litre spill over four years didn’t damage the waterway because it was already badly impaired. Again from the CBC, “Maureen Wilson, councillor for Ward 1 (west end), said the report was damning — not for the recommendation, but because Cootes Paradise is in such poor shape that a four-year sewage leak didn’t change it.”
The release began on January 28, 2014, when a gate on a CSO tank was partially opened. This gate remained open until July 18, 2018. This release lead to the billions of gallons of sewage and stormwater that discharged into Chedoke Creek, which flows to Cootes Paradise and then Hamilton Harbour.
For more information on the sewage discharge, you can read the CBC report.
Additional Recent Sewer Discharges
We have seen several reports of sewage discharges into waterways in recent years, including the City of Timmins discharge into Porcupine Creek. Just a few years ago, the City of Montreal was granted permission to discharge 8 billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Although the discharge turned out to be only 4.9 billion litres, it was, nonetheless, an unappealing process.
Issues “under foot” such as these are not in the public consciousness until there are releases. Further, these are expensive fixes, but they must be addressed at some point in the near future.
Progress on the FCSAP Program
There is some good news regarding progress under the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP). This plan was established in 2005 as a 15-year program with funding of $4.54 billion from the Government of Canada. According to the Canadian Government, “The main objective of FCSAP is to reduce environmental and human health risks from known federal contaminated sites and associated federal financial liabilities. The program provides funding to custodians to assess sites and to remediate/risk manage eligible sites.”
A recent article in Daily Commercial News points out that we have made meaningful progress. They provide this update on the FCSAP: “There were 23,710 sites on the list of properties when the program was launched in 2005. Today, that number has been whittled down to 6,865 active or suspected sites — a 70 percent decrease in 15 years.”
The program that expired this year was recently renewed for an additional 15 years with $1.16 billion for Phase IV – 2020 to 2024.
The same article states that, “With the new funding, it is estimated that 242 sites will be assessed, and remediation activities will be undertaken on 1,316 sites. Of these, remediation activities will be carried out on about 475 sites in First Nations communities. The investment is expected to support 6,400 new and existing jobs over five years.”
First Nations Communities
With respect to First Nations communities, Gabrielle Boivin, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, said “Indigenous Services Canada has about 2,000 contaminated sites in its active inventory although not all sites are in close proximity to residents in the 3,194 First Nations communities across the country.”
Some of the problems in First Nations Communities are due to the remoteness of the communities, which means they depend on diesel and heating fuel for heating, transportation, and electricity. Storage, transfer, and spills from these tanks can lead to contamination that is, again, remote and not easily addressed.
These stories remind us that despite our progress in addressing environmental issues, there is still plenty of “environmental work” that must be addressed across Canada.
If you need assistance with an environmental issue, you can contact me by email, and I will get back to you promptly.