A big mess
We don’t give it much thought when we flush the toilet or run the tap.
Where does the water, the wastewater, go?
For most communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, it flows through an elaborate network of pipes and straight out in the beautiful bay or harbour on which our communities were settled.
It’s been that way since water and sewer systems replaced outhouses.
That’s a period of many decades for most places, and recognizing the continuing environmental damage, the federal government, with the support of provincial ministers, put a deadline in place for municipalities to treat their wastewater. That deadline was Jan. 1 - 2015. The Telegram’s Ashley Fitzpatrick has written numerous articles about the burden these guidelines have put on this province’s municipalities.
Earlier this month she reported that hundreds of the towns did not meet the treatment target or even report how many outfalls they had on time.
The result - right now, no one has a handle on how many outfalls there are or the exact scope of the problem.
Another result - Environment Canada enforcement is now dealing with the problem on a case-by-case basis, and the feds are withholding much-needed gas tax money from communities who are not investing in meeting the wastewater guidelines.
Some municipalities will be fined and have less federal cash to spend than the should. That’ll ultimately hurt taxpayers and residents.
Neither the enforcement or withholding of gas tax money will address the larger issue - where, in the end, the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for wastewater treatment for an estimated 230 communities is going to come from?
No pun intended, but this province is drowning in these wastewater guidelines.
It needs a life preserver; a workable plan and funding that ultimately address the issue.
The federal government needs to be the lifeguard. It’s the only entity with the ability to do so. It’s also fitting because Ottawa is responsible for creating the problem by putting unachievable guidelines in place without providing adequate funding.
Yes, provincial environment ministers were involved in the process leading up to the regs, but the feds ultimately pressed Go.
It was, and remains, a common-sense goal. There’s no arguing that. Waste needs to stop going in the ocean.
But it’s foolish, naïve and irresponsible for a government or its bureaucracy to think municipalities have the cash to comply.
Most can’t even fix the ruts in the road in their road, let alone invest millions they simply don’t have. So here’s an idea. Why don’t the feds revamp part of their infrastructure and/or gas tax program to help coastal communities tackle wastewater issues over the next five or 10 years?
It would be a win-win. The environmental damage from the waste stops and the provincial economy gets a needed and prolonged boost.
If Ottawa is not willing to do something like, this problem will never go away.