On May 31st, Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament for Dufferin—Caledon, Sylvia Jones, brought forward Bill 141, Sewage Bypass Reporting Act, 2017. The bill would see the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) publicly report data on any sewage diverted into water courses.

“The intent for me of 141 is public disclosure and transparency,” MPP Jones told Water Canada. “I have spoken to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and formally made requests of all the regional offices to ask for their figures and numbers on how much bypass occurred in the last year.”

Bill 141 introduces three new subsections to Section 30 of the Ontario Water Resources Act. The Water Resources Act governs the discharge of polluting materials into watercourses. Specifically, Bill 141 requires that water treatment facilities–publicly or privately operated—report the duration or estimated volume of discharge, the reasons for the discharge, and that MOECC reports the data publicly.

“The Sewage Bypass Reporting Act is an important step forward in being more open and transparent with the general public about what we are knowingly discharging into our public water courses,” Giovanni Cautillo, executive director, Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association told Water Canada. “People need to know when a sewage bypass occurs so they can make more informed decisions about how and when they use public waterbodies, and to help inform future decisions around public infrastructure investments.”

MPP Jones sees her bill as an opportunity to improve municipal operations whether urban or rural. “There are more stories now, even in mainstream media, about issues related to broken sewer main pipes and burst pipes, all the havoc that that causes […] in urban centres.” But, she said, we also have to look outside of the urban, “I look at YouTube and posts of people canoeing after a heavy rain, and I’m thinking: oh my.”

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Outflow

Recreation meet sewage overflow. Photo Credit: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.

Bill 141 has passed first reading, so there are more steps before it becomes law. But as the recent WWF-Canada report described, the need for transparent and available data on water quality in Canadian watersheds is imperative.

“Since these bypass incidences will only increase with the upsurge in climactic occurrences, it is imperative that the general public utilizing the affected waterways are adequately informed,” said Cautillo. “The bill is clear and concise in its message to educate and inform the public, and the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association applauds Sylvia Jones for her insight and her action on this matter of public safety.”

“I want people to understand what happens when we have heavy rainstorms, and I want people to appreciate when our municipal and provincial leaders put money into infrastructure,” said MPP Jones. “I get it—It can be not as exciting as a new arena or playground, but frankly, it’s critically important to the health of our communities.”

Earlier in May, Kingston, Ont., began reporting sewage overflow in real-time.

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