Confidential discharges

A translation by Judith Turcotte

The municipal authorities are responsible for the purification of wastewater and by extension, the discharges of untreated water directly into the St. Lawrence River and they are free to do what they want. The people are preoccupied by the quality of the water entering their homes but are indifferent to the fate of the toilet water sent into the sewer system. In the face of this indifference, the politicians on all levels do not hesitate in being discreet when the discharges occur directly in the St. Lawrence River.

A few years ago, at the time of the discharge of eight million litres of wastewater into the St. Lawrence River by the City of Montréal, this discharge would have passed undetected if not for a notification that had been made public by a nautical association. It took an organization such as a nautical association to attract the attention of the media on the subject. I asked myself where the investigative journalists could be, these self-proclaimed protectors of the people, to have missed such news. In the same article, I learnt that the City of Montréal had carried out the discharge of the same magnitude in 2003 and 2005. Environment Canada was aware but omitted to inform the people, just like the City of Montréal by the way. In another article I learnt that, thanks to the Rivers Foundation, 52,794 discharges had been recorded in 2020.

Our Environment Ministry asked the municipalities to not increase the number of discharges beyond the level of 2014. Note that they talk about not increasing, not reducing. After January 1, 2030, the ministry warns they will take action against the municipalities that will not have attained their objective. The Rivers Foundation denounces this policy with reason. The ministries in both Québec and Ottawa work in isolation. In other words, they do not talk to each other. The Environment Ministry may well issue these policies but if the financing from the upper-level does not follow, the municipalities will not be able to attain their objective. If the people do not revolt, the situation will not change.

I wrote, at the beginning of the text, that the discharges of wastewater in the river did not seem to worry the people. These discharges can have consequences and I would be remiss if I did not mention the Sewergate Scandal which the city of Hamilton created. The city has nine reservoirs of overflow which are used to receive the excess wastewater when there is heavy rain. These reservoirs are used to store the wastewater until it can be treated. In January 2014, one of these reservoirs was left open and the wastewater spread to a national historic site called Cootes Paradise, now part of Hamilton’s royal botanical gardens. If the authorities had acted diligently, there would not have been a scandal, but the breach in the reservoir was only discovered after several years. It was only in 2018, after a citizen had denounced the pollution of the shoreline (I pass on the description of the objects found there) that the Environment Ministry ordered an inspection. The cost to clean up the mess exceeds 6 million dollars. More than 8 million litres had been discharged by the City of Montréal; in Hamilton, more than 24 million have been discharged. If we compare ourselves, we console ourselves? No! It is not an excuse.

For those who would like more details, I invite you to read Inside Hamilton’s Sewergate Scandal, by Nathan Whitlock, an article in the March/April edition of the Walrus magazine.

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