Wastewater System Effluent Regulations

Issue: Effluent from wastewater systems represents one of the largest sources of pollution, by volume, in Canadian waters. Negative impacts to aquatic ecosystems and to Canadians from harmful substances found in wastewater effluent have been documented domestically and internationally for over 20 years. In Canada, the management of wastewater is subject to shared jurisdiction, which has led to inconsistent regulatory regimes and varying levels of treatment across the country. Treatment levels range from very good in many areas to poor or no treatment, mostly on the coasts. Through various consultation processes, interested parties have consistently indicated the need for all levels of government to develop a harmonized approach to managing the wastewater sector in Canada.

To meet this need, there has been a strong history of consultation and cooperation on the management of wastewater in Canada over the past decade. These consultations culminated in 2009, when the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) endorsed the Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent (CCME Strategy). This strategy facilitates the development of a harmonized approach for the management of wastewater effluent in Canada. To help implement the CCME Strategy, the federal government committed to develop regulations under theFisheries Act using the national effluent quality standards established in the CCME Strategy.

Description: The proposed Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (the proposed Regulations) have been developed under the Fisheries Act and would fulfill a commitment under the CCME Strategy for the establishment of national effluent quality standards. These standards represent a secondary level of wastewater treatment or equivalent. The objective of the proposed Regulations is to reduce the risks to ecosystem health, fisheries resources and human health by decreasing the level of harmful substances deposited to Canadian surface water from wastewater effluent.

In addition to the national effluent quality standards, the proposed Regulations also specify the conditions to be met in order to deposit effluent containing deleterious substances, such as requirements concerning toxicity, effluent monitoring, monitoring of the receiving environment and record-keeping and reporting. The deleterious substances specified under the proposed Regulations include biochemical oxygen demanding (BOD) matter, suspended solids (SS), total residual chlorine and un-ionized ammonia.

The proposed Regulations would apply to any wastewater system that has a capacity to deposit a daily effluent volume of 10 m3 or more from its final discharge point and that deposits a deleterious substance to surface water.(see footnote 1) The proposed Regulations would not apply to any wastewater system located in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and north of the 54th parallel in the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, as further research is required to set appropriate standards for the extreme climatic conditions found in those areas.

An owner or operator of a wastewater system depositing effluent not meeting the national effluent quality standards would be able to apply for a transitional authorization. It would establish the conditions under which such a system may continue to operate and would set the risk-based timeline to meet the national effluent quality standards. Wastewater systems posing a high risk would be required to meet the effluent quality standards within 10 years; those posing a medium risk, within 20 years; and those posing low risk, within 30 years.

The proposed Regulations would come into force through a phased approach. Effluent monitoring requirements, record-keeping and reporting requirements, and the provisions allowing for temporary or transitional authorizations to be applied for and issued would come into force on the day on which the proposed Regulations are registered. The requirement to meet the effluent quality standards would come into force 24 months following the registration of the proposed Regulations, with the exception of the standard for total residual chlorine, which would come fully into force over three years.

Cost-benefit statement: A cost-benefit analysis reveals that the proposed Regulations would likely result in significant net benefits nationally, even with only a partial quantification of benefits. While the estimated costs of the proposal are significant (in the order of $5.9 billion in discounted 2010 dollars), the overall quantified benefits are almost three times this amount, totalling $17.6 billion. This results in a benefit to cost ratio of almost 3:1 for the country as a whole.

The majority of the costs of the proposed Regulations would be borne by municipalities, as they own and operate the vast majority of wastewater systems in Canada. These include capital and operating costs for systems that need upgrading to meet the required standards. Non-capital costs would also be incurred, including monitoring and reporting costs, and in some cases environmental monitoring costs. Combined, all of the costs total $5.9 billion in present value terms.

There are numerous benefits to improved wastewater effluent quality. These include healthier fish and aquatic ecosystems, increased recreational use, higher property values, reduced health risks from recreational contact with and consumption of fish, reduced water supply costs for municipalities and industry, increased commercial fisheries use, and increased value placed on ecosystem and water quality by individuals and house-holds for the benefit of both current and future generations.

It is difficult to quantify these benefits, so two measures that could be applied broadly to communities across Canada were selected. These include the willingness to pay for improved water quality and the property value increases linked to improved water quality. The total willingness to pay for communities that would need to upgrade their wastewater systems across Canada is estimated to be $3.2 billion in present value terms. The total property value increases that would likely result are estimated to be worth $14.4 billion in present value terms. Note that these two methods only provide a partial measure of the full benefits of the proposed Regulations. There are many benefits that cannot be quantified with the available information, such as the impact of increased access to shellfish harvesting areas or the impacts of local tourism. Thus, the total benefits are expected to be even higher than those presented here.

Business and consumer impacts: Businesses and consumers may face higher taxes or utility rates to help pay for the costs associated with the required capital upgrades in a number of communities. There is insufficient information available to the federal government to predict the potential magnitude of such increases. However, as public infrastructure is funded through a variety of sources, impacts on businesses and consumers in particular communities are expected to be relatively small. Governments have also agreed to explore alternatives for very small communities to address the proposed regulatory requirements in an efficient manner.

To limit the administrative burden of the proposed Regulations, Environment Canada would develop an electronic reporting tool for use by all regulators and regulatees. This tool would enable reports to be submitted and tracked electronically.

In terms of competitiveness impacts, improved water quality from the proposed Regulations would result in a number of benefits: improvements in water quality would be expected to have a positive impact on the fishing and seafood industry, valued at $5 billion in 2005; it would serve to reduce contaminant-related harvest closures in the shellfish industry, valued at $1.5 billion in 2008; and it could help remove barriers to markets for seafood, e.g. mussel exports from Eastern Canada. Benefits would also likely include fewer beach closures and an increased ability of Canadians and visitors to enjoy water-based recreation throughout Canada. This would positively impact the tourism industry, which represents approximately 2% of Canada’s GDP.

Domestic and international coordination and cooperation: The proposed Regulations include national baseline standards for effluent deposited from wastewater systems across the country. These effluent standards would bring Canada generally in line with standards adopted in both the United States and the European Union.

The proposed Regulations could enhance coordination between Canada and the United States with respect to transboundary water quality. This would be especially true in the Great Lakes, where Canada and the United States are party to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which includes commitments for both countries to cooperate on the clean up of industrial effluent and wastewater effluent.

The proposed Regulations could also enhance cooperation and coordination with the global community. Wastewater effluent is one of the key issues under the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA), which Canada adopted in 1995 and responded to with its own National Programme of Action (NPA). The proposed Regulations would help respond to the NPA on this issue.

Performance measurement and evaluation plan: A performance measurement and evaluation plan has been prepared for the proposed Regulations. It outlines the outcomes that would be measured and evaluated to assess the performance of the proposed Regulations. A key outcome is the regulated community being in compliance with the proposed requirements. Another would be that national effluent quality standards are achieved within prescribed timelines and are maintained. The overall outcome would be that risks to ecosystem health, fisheries resources and human health are reduced.

These outcomes would be evaluated in phases to capture the effectiveness of the development and implementation of the proposed Regulations. Proposed effectiveness indicators include the percentage of the regulated community that is in compliance with the limits for effluent quality. The reduction in loadings of deleterious substances, as defined under the proposed Regulations, would also be used to evaluate these outcomes and would be determined annually.

Reporting on the progress and performance of the proposed Regulations would occur through Departmental Performance Reports. Annual reports, based on the routine reporting required by the proposed Regulations, would also be produced and made publicly available. With respect to the assessment of the overall effectiveness of the implementation of the proposed Regulations, Environment Canada would work with the departmental Head of Evaluation to determine the scope of the evaluation, as well as the appropriate timing. Environment Canada would also report on the overall outcomes of environmental effects monitoring studies.

Read the Full Regulations Here