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New York Officials Raise Concerns Over Montreal Plans To Dump Raw Sewage

Pixabay/Public Domain
Sewage pipes file photo

A plan by the city of Montreal to release raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River is raising concerns south of the border in New York.  U.S. Senator Charles Schumer recently joined the debate, asking the State Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop the city’s plan.
The city of Montreal plans to discharge 8 billion liters of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River from October 18 to the 25th.   City officials say it is a necessary part of an expressway reconstruction project that will revitalize aged interceptor sewer pipes.

Although it is a controversial plan, it was approved by the Quebec Environment Ministry.  Environment Canada is reviewing the potential environmental impacts and whether it violates a clause of the Canadian Fisheries Act that prohibits “the deposit of deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish.”

The plan is also of concern on the southern banks of the St. Lawrence River in New York State.  Save the River Executive Director and St. Lawrence River Riverkeeper Lee Willbanks says releasing 8 billion liters, or nearly 2.1 billion gallons, of raw sewage into the river sets a “horrible” precedent.   “One of the primary duties of government is the protection of public health and safety and this just flies in the face of that.  So even before you get to the environmental insult and just the shocking behavior there it’s almost like they’re turning their back on that protection of public health duty and that I think is astounding.”

Willbanks alerted New York Senator Charles Schumer, who has asked the EPA to work with the State Department to stop Montreal from dumping the raw sewage into the river.   “Even though we’re not downstream from where Montreal  plans to dump the sewage, it’s very likely to affect  our environment and residents and businesses who rely on this waterway.  When it comes to the safety of people of St. Lawrence County and the entire North Country we need to take caution when it comes to the disposing of sewage.  It puts Canadian sewage in our front yards and could lead to devastating effects.”

Former North Country Congressman Bill Owens represented the 21st district alongside the St. Lawrence River before retiring last term.   While in the House, he co-chaired the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.  Before he entered politics he worked on cross-border initiatives.  Owens says the only group with jurisdiction is the International Joint Commission, which oversees the shared waters between the U.S and Canada.    “This is an issue for the province of Quebec  and the government of Canada in terms of their equivalent of the EPA. The only entity that has control over the river is the Joint Commission and I’m not sure actually whether they have authority in this particular arena because they have a very narrow charter.”  

A group of five professors from Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal issued a position paper late last week, they say with no influence from city officials, that says the raw sewage release is the best option for the city and will do no significant harm.  Associate Professor of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering Sarah Dorner explains that water discharged after treatment retains a number of contaminants that cannot be eliminated during the treatment process.  Dorner says the planned release of 8 billion liters of raw sewage will not significantly increase contaminants.   “For example pharmaceuticals are not currently removed from the wastewater every day of the year.  And it also doesn’t have nutrient removal.  Obviously this is a large sewage spill.  But when put into the context of what’s currently happening there were 45,000 of them in 2013 alone of raw sewage spills to the environment.  And I don’t think people really understood how widespread this was and how often there are emergency repairs on sewer networks.  There’s a lot of need for reinvestments and I don’t think everyone really realized that this is a common occurrence.”

According to McGill University, Montreal treats about half of the sewage produced by the province of Quebec.  It has the largest wastewater treatment plant in North America, the third largest in the world.

New York 21st District Congresswoman Elise Stefanik issued the following statement Wednesday in response to the proposed sewage dump into the St. Lawrence River by the City of Montreal:

“I am very concerned with Montreal’s plan to dump 2 billion gallons of sewage into the St. Lawrence River.  In the North Country we know the importance of our environment and the importance of protecting our bodies of water. I trust that the Canadian government agrees and will make the right decision to protect the St. Lawrence River by blocking this unwise decision. My office has been communicating with the city of Montreal and will continue to stay in touch with our Canadian counterparts to voice the North Country’s strong opposition to this plan.”

MONTREAL (AP) — Canadian officials have ordered Montreal not to dump 2 billion gallons of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Many Montrealers had asked Ottawa to step in and Senator Chuck Schumer got involved, asking U.S. environmental regulators to work with Canada to stop the dumping plan.

The text of the press release issued by Environment Canadafollows:

Ottawa, Ont. – October 14, 2015 – Today, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council, issued the following statement with respect to the City of Montreal’s plans to discharge 8 billion litres of raw sewage in the St. Lawrence River:

“The St. Lawrence River is one of Canada’s most important waterways, acting as a home to several species of whales and fish while providing millions of Canadians their drinking water.

“Subsection 36 (3) of the Fisheries Act prohibits ‘the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish’. As such it is crucial that I exercise due diligence as Minister of the Environment to ensure that every possible action is being undertaken to protect aquatic life within the St. Lawrence.

“Upon my request, Environment Canada has gathered information from the City of Montreal to assess the environmental implications of their plans. As a result, my department has determined that the environmental impacts of the planned release are likely significant. Further, Montreal did not study the predicted impacts of this specific planned discharge of approximately 8 billion litres of untreated wastewater. Finally, based on limited data, Environment Canada cannot conclude whether or not the untreated wastewater to be released will be acutely toxic.

“That said, the City has indicated that there is a particular urgency attached to this project and that according to their evaluations this is the only viable option available to them.

“Recognizing these issues, the significant concerns of the public, and the need to ensure we have the best possible and most complete scientific analysis for this project, I have instructed Environment Canada to immediately have an independent expert scientific review of all information related to this project conducted. This review, which will be supported by Government of Canada scientists, would take into consideration information from the City, the province, and other scientific and technical experts in this field to analyze the current proposal as well as other options available to the city to ensure the best possible outcome for the St. Lawrence.

“While we await the completion of this independent expert scientific review I will issue an interim order under Section 37 of the Fisheries Act to put the project on hold.

“An independent scientific review by a third party will ensure the best possible protection for the St. Lawrence.”