Ministry sloppy with septic rules
|By Alex Coop - Reporter | October 12, 2017|
It’s no secret, Haliburton County has a capacity problem when it comes to waste disposal. This applies to general household waste, but also bio-solids. In layman’s terms, our feces.
Recently, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) said Haliburton County is facing a sewage capacity crisis, according to Algonquin Highlands Mayor, Carol Moffatt.
Algonquin Highlands operates a fee-based septage treatment lagoon, while Highlands East provides access to a septage trench at no charge. Dysart et al and Minden Hills manage sewer systems for central areas of the villages, but lack specific infrastructure that deals with raw septic waste.
That’s where field spreading, specifically the application of raw, untreated sewage onto fields, comes in, and it’s something all four municipalities rely on. Private companies of various sizes pump septic tanks and dispose the waste on fields. The approvals for these fields have become more difficult to obtain since the early 2000s, and rightfully so. Poor management of these fields could lead to disasters, such as the one in Walkerton, where E coli bacteria contaminated water systems in 2002, killing seven people and leaving thousands sick.
In rural communities, however, field spreading is often the main option for disposing septage waste. A hauled sewage policy and program review was initiated by the MOECC in early 2016, and it appears the outcome of that review will be made public sometime in early 2018, according to an engineer from ASI Water, who explained the review process to Dysart’s environment and conservation committee last month.
Implementation, however, won’t be for another several years. But frankly, this process – which actually began in 2002 when the government of Ontario tried to, and failed, to create a five year strategy to ban the practice – has been sloppy.
The MOECC has frequently gone back to the drawing board, citing a lack of alternatives for rural communities without the infrastructure and money for large-scale facilities, but also lack the capacity to fill those plants with waste.
In 2010, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, highlighted problems with the MOECC’s rollout of new quality-based standards for the land application of bio-solids. The commissioner’s annual report at that time said while the public had more opportunities to comment on proposals, “the government should have provided a better description of the broader context of the new rules.”
The same thing is happening now. While municipalities wait for guidance from the ministry, companies like Haliburton Septic Pumping and Francis Thomas Contracting Co Ltd. are failing to renew their Environmental Compliance Approvals for their spreading fields because of inadequate site conditions and environmental concerns.
And, while we’re all for protecting our environment, specifically our beautiful shorelines and lakes, it has to be asked: what has changed between now and the last time the ministry granted approvals for the same sites a couple of years ago?
In the case of Haliburton Septic Pumping, guiding documents and lake capacity (at Maple Lake) haven’t changed between now and the last time ECA approvals were granted. As reported in last week’s Highlander, the ministry’s decision left the site’s owner Dave Elstone a little confused. MOECC district manager for the Peterborough district, David Bradley, told The Highlander Elstone’s site was “not suitable for long-term use and the longterm operation of the proposed hauled sewage disposal site would represent a concentrated, ongoing source of phosphorus loading into Maple Lake.” If that’s the case, why even allow a business to apply for an ECA approval if there was, what appeared to be, a predetermined case for not granting him an approval? That’s a lot of time and money wasted for one business to then ultimately just have the rug pulled out from underneath them.
We applaud the ministry’s consideration of public feedback, but dock it serious points for keeping municipalities and private haulers in the dark about how exactly we should approach our sewage capacity crisis while it shuts down fields that are still following the guidelines.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.