A big mess

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - — This ed­i­to­rial was orig­i­nally pub­lished in The Tele­gram

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.

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