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Wastewater sanitation: it will take much more than the Blue Fund

OPEN LETTER

On November 26, a few days before the COP 15 on biodiversity, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the National Water Policy.

This should allow us to regain the quality of the water in our lakes and rivers. We are still a long way off, but the good news is that the intensity and number of wastewater spills have shown a decrease over the past five years. Several elected officials and municipal managers reiterated their firm intention to reduce the number of spills and to make all necessary efforts to bring wastewater treatment plants up to standard by the end of 2030, as the government of Quebec with its counterparts in other provinces in 2014.

However, a lot of effort will be needed since our wastewater treatment plants still pollute too much! Talk to residents of Repentigny, Lavaltrie and even Trois-Rivières, who still cannot dip their toes in the St. Lawrence River because the treatment plants in Montreal, Longueuil and Repentigny, among others, discharge water contaminated with E. Coli, due to lack of adequate disinfection mechanisms.

To protect our waterways and their ecosystems, it will be necessary to carry out major and complex modifications to 14 large wastewater treatment plants by 2030 with the addition of disinfection, the increase in treatment capacity and the development of basins. wastewater retention. This is without counting the upgrading of 86 wastewater treatment plants whose discharges of suspended matter and biochemical oxygen demands far exceed the permitted limits. We must also adequately equip dozens of other stations to remove phosphorus, disinfect, reduce overflows and resolve the situation of the 81 municipalities which still discharge water without treatment.

By announcing the creation of blue fund Last August, Prime Minister Legault recalled that his government reserved 7 billion $ over ten years for municipalities so that they can intervene on their drinking water and wastewater systems. However, almost all of this money will be spent on replacing outdated water and sewer pipes and treatment systems. This is what we call, in the jargon, “asset maintenance”. 

The 2022-2032 Quebec Infrastructure Plan only provides for a single billion $ over 10 years, therefore approximately 100 million $ per year, to improve the performance of water treatment systems. This amount is derisory when we know that the implementation of the ozonation disinfection to Montreal will cost at least 700 million $ approximately a third of which will be paid by Quebec. If we take into account the expected contribution from the federal government, at least 4 billion $ are missing from the Quebec plan.

At the time of writing these lines, dozens of municipalities are working hard to assess their financial needs to bring their facilities up to standard. They all know, full well, that there is no money planned either in Quebec or in Ottawa. How can they do their job? 

What will happen on December 31 when Quebec receives the 14 financial requests totaling several billion $ when there is no money planned to cover this work? Will we, once again, postpone the deadlines, just to save time? Or will we settle for a mediocre response to a glaring problem?

The Legault government prides itself on being far-sighted and pragmatic. It must immediately include all the necessary amounts in the Quebec Infrastructure Plan and thus send a clear signal to municipal elected officials who need predictability to integrate investments into their budgets. 

The announcement of the creation of the Blue Fund shows a new government concern for water protection. But what is the point of better characterizing municipal discharges, cleaning the banks, fighting against invasive plants or monitoring the water quality of lakes if we continue to dump our wastewater there without adequate treatment? We must act at the source of the problem now and demonstrate the seriousness of the situation by investing the necessary amounts, meeting the expectations of Quebecers. 

By Alain Saladzius, president of Fondation Rivières

This text was originally published in the Ideas section of The duty

Photo: Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir

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