Hamilton Kent Blog

Canada has a raw sewage problem, here’s why

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Remember the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010? More than 750 million litres of oil accidentally spilled into the Gulf of Mexico due to an infrastructure failure.

Now let's move a little bit farther north and multiply that amount of pollution by 263—you'll eventually reach the amount of sewage and untreated wastewater that entered into Canada's waterways in 2015—also due to infrastructure failures.

Although the timeline on these failures, and the infrastructure involved, are different, the results to our water systems is the same.

Canada's raw sewage problem

According to a report recently published by CBC, more than 205 billion litres of raw sewage and untreated wastewater entered into Canada's lakes, rivers and oceans, last year. This is a 1.9 percent increase from 2014, despite new federal regulations put in place under the conservative government in 2012.

The regulations stipulate that municipalities must both treat water to remove solid wastes, as well as organic material, before it re-enters into Canada's water systems. Unless otherwise specified, municipalities have until 2020 to comply to the new regulations.

Why is this happening?

If we're talking numbers, the increase in pollution in some cases can be attributed to an increase in accurate reporting due to the new legislation, according to Environment Canada.

But that doesn't explain what's happening inside the pipes to cause pollution in the first place.

Non-existent treatment facilities: Some of this sewage was never being treated in the first place, due to a lack of wastewater treatment plants in certain locations across Canada. This means pollution is being dumped with little or no treatment beforehand.

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs): In municipalities with combined sanitary and storm sewers, it only takes one big storm to cause the city to release untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways. If they don't release this combined flow into waterways, it will back up into people's homes or surcharge from manholes along the collection pipelines. This is because the excess water will cause the sewer collection systems or treatment plants to exceed capacity and overflow—the water has to go somewhere.

Separated systems: Leakages in sanitary manholes, cracked pipes, or faulty joints can lead to inflow and infiltration into sanitary sewers. This can cause overcapacity issues at sewage treatment plants. It can also lead to pipes leaking into nearby waterways, soil and groundwater.

How to prevent pollution

One way to prevent pollution starts when building sewage infrastructure in the first place. It's now common industry knowledge that combined sewers tend to overflow. Many provinces in Canada have banned combined sewers altogether.

Installing separate sanitary and storm sewers allows for stormwater runoff to drain properly, and avoid extraneous water from entering into sanitary systems.

Where funding for an overhaul on existing combined sewers is not possible, or where separate sewers are leaking, watertight solutions are an affordable and easy fix.

Rubber gaskets at pipe joints should always be used to increase the longevity and performance of the joint and prevent contamination from outflow and inflow. Rubber connectors at pipe-to-manhole intersections are flexible, durable and watertight, a much better option to mortar connections. Watertight manhole covers prevent surface water from entering into sanitary systems, a problem that's especially prevalent in low-lying areas and locations along waterways and in drainage areas.

From a land planning perspective, green infrastructure can work with grey infrastructure to prevent the number of pollutants from entering into the system. Read our blog on combining those efforts here.

If you're interested in getting compliant with new federal regulations, or if you would like to speak to one of our reps, contact us here.