By Connor Lynch
Quebec City diverted 46-million litres of raw, untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River last month in order to repair infrastructure.
Considering that a typical dairy farmer would have a 5.5 million-litre manure pit, the deliberate spill at Quebec City would be like dumping more than eight completely filled manure pits into the St. Lawrence.
That’s a shocking amount to a farmer who carefully manages any farm waste runoff or faces an investigation and thousands of dollars in penalties. Despite the fact that Quebec City has dumped raw sewage before, it has never been charged, a federal ministry of the environment spokesperson told Farmers Forum.
But Quebec City is hardly the only offender. In 2016, Quebec City dumped 135-million litres of sewage into the river, but that was a paltry dribbling compared to 2015’s mammoth 4.9-billion litre dump by Montreal. Municipalities do get fined, though it’s rare. Ottawa was fined $562,500 for a spill in 2006. The city supervisor was also fired after lying to senior staff about the spill, according to the Canadian Press.
Toronto is also a repeat offender. Last year, Ontario’s largest city sent 1.3 billion litres of partially-treated sewage into Lake Ontario because of heavy rains during the spring. A city spokesperson told CityNews in 2015 that overflow from Toronto’s sewage system because of rainfall causes partially-treated waste to end up in Lake Ontario as often as 60 times a year, or about five times a month.
Last year’s spring flooding sent over 600-million litres of raw sewage from the City of Ottawa into the Ottawa River last May. Flooding also saw Kingston pump out 364-million litres of raw sewage into Lake Ontario last year in the spring.
From a farmer’s point-of-view, this hardly seems fair, as they have faced significant fines and multi-year legal battles for comparatively small amounts of waste that entered waterways, even accidentally. Eastern Ontario beef farmer Michael Hunt pleaded guilty to federal charges in late 2003 after a few of his cattle had been found wandering in a creek. His court costs ended up being $32,000.
The federal government prosecutes farmers under the Fisheries Act, believing that the substances released could have a “deleterious effect” on fish in the waterways.
Cities like Montreal cover themselves when their employed scientists file reports after the dump. According to the CBC, the city’s scientists concluded that the 2015 dump had “almost no impact,” on the St. Lawrence River, with water quality returning to normal within 10 days.