Water Quality Concerns

Posted by on Aug 27, 2018 in Press | 0 comments

Aside from maintaining environmental compliance, dealing with a spill, evaluating long-term remediation efforts, or assessing the environmental liability at a commercial property before your company commits, there are the big-picture environmental issues that may eventually affect you (or your client’s) business.

Environmental Impacts to Water Bodies

One of the big-picture issues that is important to everyone is the health of water bodies, small and large.  More specifically, what future solutions may be implemented to address the issue of nutrient loading and untreated (or limited treatment) sewage discharge on water bodies.  This is a significant issue, and commitments made by governments will affect the regulated communities.

We discussed one aspect of this issue last year.  As we stated then, this is a complicated issue (see Canada-Ontario Draft Action Plan for Phosphorus Control).

And you may recall, a few years ago Montreal was forced to dump raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River as they were making sewer repairs.

Now, an August 15, 2018, article in The Toronto Star has pushed the issue of sewage and nutrients in water to the forefront again.  In the article, they write, “…over one trillion litres of raw sewage leaked into Canadian waterways between 2013 and 2017, including 215 billion litres in 2017.”

The article goes on to say, “Environmental officials attribute most of the increase [reporting] to more systems complying with the reporting requirements.  However Krystyn Tully, vice-president of the water advocacy organization Swim Drink Fish Canada, says only 159 of the 269 municipal systems that are required to report actually did in 2017.”

Protecting Canada's two million lakes and rivers, which accounts for 20 percent of the world's freshwater, is an important aspect of environmental protection. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Protecting Canada’s two million (plus) lakes and rivers, which account for 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater, is an important aspect of environmental protection. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Sewage and Other Sources

Taken individually, these discharges from pubic sewage plants are not a big problem.  However, when you combine them with old infrastructure across North America, runoff from residential and commercial application of fertilizer, old septic systems, NOx from power plants, and agricultural runoff, we have the makings of a much-larger environmental issue.

We witnessed a large-scale human health and environmental problem in 2014 when Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie left 500,000 people without drinking water in Toledo, Ohio.

Unfortunately, across North America (and elsewhere) we don’t seem to be getting any closer to a solution.  Excessive nutrients (apparently) impacting oceans have been researched for some time.

Dead Zones

According to an article earlier this year by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, “In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold.  In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950.”

An article this summer in the Environmental Monitor, Battling the Dead Zone, focuses on the problem of nutrient loading on water bodies.  The study of the waters in The Gulf of Mexico dead zone was conducted by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) and Louisiana State University.  They said, “Several rivers from the Midwestern [US] watershed flow south into the Gulf [of Mexico], carrying with them sediment, nutrient loads and pollution from fossil fuel burning plants and wastewater systems.”

These dead zones have environmental and economic consequences.  As the nutrients feed the phytoplankton, carbon dioxide levels rise, and oxygen levels fall.  As stated in the article, “Once the oxygen level drops below two milligrams per liter, the area is uninhabitable by marine life … during this time, a fishing trawler will not catch any fish in its net.”  The dead zone is significant – 8,776 square miles or 14,123 square kilometres.

Based on the data collected in their study, they believe the issue of excessive nitrates and the dead zone began in the 1970s.

Solutions

The solutions to these chronic issues are neither simple nor cheap.  Again quoting from The Star with respect to building capacity in municipal sewers, “Ottawa and Toronto are both building storage tunnels to prevent the systems from being overloaded during a storm.  Toronto’s $3 billion project will be built in phases with the first phase coming into operation around 2027, while Ottawa’s $232.3 million project began in 2016 and is to be done in 2020.”

Agriculture, too, is focused on reducing surface and groundwater runoff of nutrients.  This includes the Ontario’s Greenhouses Growers who have been the focus of nutrient impacts to local streams and Lake Erie.

With increased attention to the health of our oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams, as well as reducing harmful inputs, expect either more regulations, more taxes to pay for the needed fixes, or both.

As for how this larger issue may affect your company, stormwater management and non-point source runoff will likely be an area of increased focus in the future.

If you have questions or need assistance with environmental management issues, please feel free to contact me at 519-979-7300, Ext. 114.