Monday, June 9, 2014

Torbay Wastewater Treatment Study Underway

Untreated wastewater (sewage) has been a big issue for many Torbay residents over the years including myself and there seems to be a general consensus that something has to be done about it. On the heels of World Oceans Day which occurred on June 8 I would like to take a minute to update people on where we are exactly with wastewater treatment in Torbay and express the fact that we are moving forward.

In July 2012 the Government of Canada introduced new wastewater treatment regulations designed to reduce the amount of untreated wastewater that is pumped into Canadian waterways. You can view the frequently asked questions related to the new regulations here

Each year there is about 150 Billion litres of untreated or undertreated wastewater deposited by municipalities in various bodies of water in Canada. These new regulations have a significant impact on municipalities like Torbay because not only are we required to comply with the regulations but we have to do so within a specific time frame, 10, 20 or 30 years. There are various steps and guidelines that must be followed within the federal regulations and that is where the town is right now.

Before we can take any steps towards actually building a facility to treat our wastewater we need to complete a study to determine the quantity and quality of the effluent flowing from our outfall at Torbay Beach. Based on the results of this study we will be able to find out where exactly we sit as it relates to the new regulations.

For municipalities like the Town of Torbay these new regulations are both a blessing and possibly a curse. A blessing because there are guidelines for us to follow to rectify our practice of pumping raw sewage into our beach and polluting our historic bay. The possible curse is the potential cost associated with building and maintaining the required facility to allow the Town of Torbay to comply with the federal regulations. In 2012 Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) passed multiple resolutions to lobby both the Federal and Provincial Government to provide additional funding to help municipalities become complaint with the new wastewater regulations. The estimated cost to municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador for the necessary infrastructure upgrades stated by MNL is approximately $500 million. This enormous price tag could potentially cause municipalities to not comply with the regulations or place unreasonable fiscal pressures on towns such as Torbay and our tax payers.

When we look at the potential cost for municipalities in NL and then project that across the entire country we can easily see that these new regulations are going to cost many billions of dollars. So where is all the money going to come from to build infrastructure and help municipalities become complaint with federal mandated regulations? I am not aware of a single dedicated source of funding where municipalities to apply to for financial help. There are however several available federal and provincial programs and funds to which municipalities can apply for to get funds specifically for wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment infrastructure is an eligible category under the Provincial-Territorial Base Fund, the Green Infrastructure Fund, the Gas Tax Fund, the Building Canada Fund and under the Gas Tax Fund.

So with all this in mind where does this leave the town of Torbay? Well in April 2014 the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs approved the towns Prime Consultant, Progressive Engineering & Consulting to undertake our Wastewater Treatment Study and council passed a motion to get he project underway. This is a significant first step and the study is slated to be completed by the end of September 2014.

Once the study is completed, and as I mentioned earlier about knowing where we fall within the federal regulations we can choose the technology best suited to our town and put a price tag on it. After we do that we can actively pursue all available funding options from the federal and provincial governments. A phrase that I use often and have heard even more when it comes to taking advantage of government funding is "shovel ready". I think that it will be important for the town to get our project "shovel ready" as soon as we can once our study is done. As is so often the case especially with federal funding there is a pool of money available for a specific budget cycle and many times it just sits there because nobody is ready to receive it.

As a town all we can do is make sure that we have our part done and have all the i's dotted and t's crossed. We need to have our plans ready to go so if there is a funding option available that we are in a position to take advantage of it where others may be scrambling. I think we are on the right path and certainly on the road to rectifying our wastewater woes as they exist right now.

In the mean time while we are completing our study and preparing to move forward with wastewater treatment the town of Torbay actively monitors the beach and conducts sampling in the water and on the rocks to ensure it is as safe as can be considering we have a raw sewage outfall off our shore. There were significant problems a couple of years ago when the outfall pipe was damaged but that has since been fixed and the natural currents in our bay help keep effluent off the shore area.

As always I like to remind people that all opinions stated in this space are mine and not necessarily those of the town of Torbay or Council.