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Wastewater

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Protecting Canada's groundwater

More than 25 per cent of Canadians, mostly in rural areas, rely on septic tanks for their wastewater disposal. Replacing or upgrading these facilities is prohibitively expensive for some property owners, compromising the quality of the surrounding groundwater.

Funding improvements to private septic systems

Financial assistance from the federal government for upgrades to municipal wastewater systems does not apply to septic systems in private residences.

In 2009, FCM passed a resolution asking the federal government to evaluate funding options to help property owners bring their septic systems up to standards. The question has now been re-opened in Parliament with private member's motion M-400 proposing an evaluation of federal funding options to help home owners to update or replace faulty septic systems.

Members of Parliament will vote on M-400 in March 2013. FCM encourages members to contact their local MPs to let them know how this issue affects their municipalities.

For more information, see the M-400 debate in Parliament.


The federal government published its Wastewater System Effluent Regulation (WSER) in March 2010. Its goal was to bring wastewater treatment throughout Canada to a secondary level. This regulatory process was built on guidance provided by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent. All Canadian wastewater systems will eventually have to comply with the regulation by 2040. High-risk systems would require completion by 2020. The following Environment Canada figure shows the breakdown, by province and territory, of Canadians not served by secondary wastewater treatment.

 

Canadian wastewater performance, 2004

Based on data from Environment Canada's "2007 Municipal Water Use Report."

Map of Canada

Municipalities support the goal of keeping Canada's water clean and to doing our part in that process. However, several aspects of the regulation raised concerns with local government when they were first published:

  1. The mandate to upgrade wastewater systems comes with no supporting financing.
  2. A one-window approach for communities was not reflected in the regulation.
  3. No considerations were made for small and declining communities.
  4. Reporting requirements were onerous and did not reflect operational realities or good performance.
  5. Regulatory elements such as Deposits out of the Normal Course of Events threatened to significantly increase the estimated $20-billion compliance price tag.

Since July 2010, FCM, in collaboration with the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, has been in dialogue with Environment Canada staff to work toward an improved regulation. The process has been positive. We expect the revised regulation should address our major concerns.

FCM has also begun working with Infrastructure Canada to develop a long-term infrastructure plan - as announced in Budget 2011. The cost concerns related to the wastewater regulations will be raised within this context.

Additional documents

Page Updated: 01/05/2014