An environmental non-profit organization dedicated to championing a healthy environment has ranked the Forest City as among the worst cities in Ontario in terms of polluting local water supplies.
A report released on Wednesday (Aug 14) by Ecojustice ranks 12 Ontario municipalities and finds that many are still polluting local bodies of water with sewage, endangering plant and animal species and making water unsafe for recreational use. London was tied with Windsor for last place in the rankings with a grade of C+.
However, John Lucas, London’s director of water and wastewater, says the grade doesn’t tell the entire story.
“We read the report and we note it has a focus, and emphasis, on overflows and CSOs (combined sewer overflows), which is a problem in Ontario, everyone knows that,” Lucas said. “We understand they have a perspective and every time we get a survey result like that, we look at it. First thing we notice is it isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know.”
The sewage pollution outlined in the report includes a cocktail of biological and chemical pollutants, including human waste, bacteria such as E. coli, and toxic chemicals. In the 2013 Great Lakes Sewage Report Card, Ecojustice analysis of the 12 Ontario municipalities that took part in the survey gave top honours to Peel Region while York and Durham were ranked second.
The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card analyzed and graded the sewage management programs of Peel Region, York and Durham, Collingwood, Kitchener-Waterloo, Midland, Brockville, Sarnia, Sudbury, St. Catharines, Toronto, Windsor and London.
“The Great Lakes Basin provides drinking water for millions and is an essential part of life for Ontarians,” said Liat Podolsky, Ecojustice staff scientist and the report’s author. “We’re urging municipalities to reduce sewage pollution and keep Ontario’s water swimmable, drinkable and fishable.”
Ecojustice recommends that all levels of government fund major sewage wastewater treatment upgrades to reduce sewage pollution. It also suggests that municipalities prioritize sewage infrastructure spending and invest in improved reporting of sewage pollution events so Ontarians are able to better protect their communities from harm.
The report found that many of Ontario’s cities have outdated sewers that combine sewage and stormwater and are prone to overflows during heavy rainfall. When this happens, sewage is released into local water bodies with little to no treatment, which is called a combined sewer overflow.
Sewage bypasses and spills are also common when treatment plants are overloaded by wet weather.
“Ontarians deserve to know when their local body of water has been contaminated,” Podolsky said. “Alerting Ontarians to the frequency and size of this problem will ensure this issue gets the attention and investment it deserves.”
Lucas agrees that education on this issue is important, which is why London took part in the study in the first place. He does caution that despite the final grade, London isn’t necessarily in a bad position.
For one thing, Lucas said London has infrastructure dating back 150 years, making it a much older city than some of the others in the study. Which also speaks to the report’s assertion around outdated infrastructure.
To further place the report in context, Lucas said the study looked at 2011, a year in which London’s precipitation was 30 percent above average, what is called, “a wet year.”
The report also speaks to 125 overflow events taking place in London. Lucas said it is more accurate to say the city filed 125 reports, not necessarily events.
The city has six treatment plants, so one big storm could lead to overflow situations at each facility, and therefore, six separate reports. Other cities have just one plant and so, when faced with the same storm, would only have one report.
Ecojustice calculated 98 percent of our London’s flows were treated while two percent of total volume was either not treated as well or not treated at all. However, London received the highest rating for its day-to-day performance on that 98 percent.
“Of that 98 percent, we are the best and the numbers proves it. We also got the highest rating for what they call current and future sewage management plans,” Lucas said. “That means you recognize the problem, are you doing something about it? Well we got a B+, we are actively making changes, making investments to combat the problem.”
The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card ranks municipalities from last to first:
12. Windsor (C-)
11. London (C-)
10. Toronto (C)
9. St. Catharines (C)
8. Sudbury (C)
7. Sarnia (C+)
6. Brockville (B)
5. Midland (B)
4. Kitchener-Waterloo (B+)
3. Collingwood (B+)
2. York and Durham (B+)
1. Peel Region (A-)