Proposed risk management strategy addressing ammonia, inorganic chloramines and effluents: chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Overarching Themes

A number of key themes emerged during the consultations that were of a cross-cutting nature. These tended to be issues that spoke to the nature and approach of the instrument and its development and implementation in relation to wastewater effluents, rather than to the details or technical requirements. These issues also related to the long-term strategy.

In this report, these issues have been summarized under the following overarching themes:

Harmonization and Working Together

Across the country, participants emphasized that the proposed approach needs to be harmonized with provincial/territorial environmental regulations and requirements for wastewater effluents. In addition, the proposed instrument must work in harmony with the requirements of the Fisheries Act, in order to provide "regulatory certainty." Participants would like to see a "one-window approach" to wastewater management. For example, in Ontario participants felt that Environment Canada's goal should be the development of a "single, consolidated approach to municipal wastewater effluent that recognizes other priorities and allows for the best allocation of resources."

One group advocated an alternative to this theme, suggesting Environment Canada should require provinces and territories to develop and file the pollution prevention plans on behalf of the municipalities.

Generally, participants believe Environment Canada needs to work closely with other federal departments, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada and Industry Canada, provincial environment ministries, industry and other stakeholders.

Environment Canada and the Provinces/Territories

Participants noted that it is important that Environment Canada work together with the provincial and territorial governments to avoid "duplication, conflict and confusion." Concern was expressed that municipalities could end up reporting to two different parties (province/territory and the federal government) using different standards, practices and processes. Participants noted that harmonization should apply to approaches, processes and substances. In the Atlantic sessions, participants noted that the risk management objectives in particular should be coordinated with other regulations and guidelines.

The issue of dilution and mixing zones was raised as a key issue where potential conflict between provincial requirements and the proposed approach exists. Participants at a number of sessions reported that provincial/territorial environmental regulations for municipal wastewater effluent consider mixing zones. In British Columbia, for example, some participants noted that requirements under the provincial Waste Management Act, which includes the Municipal Sewage Regulation and the Liquid Waste Management Planning (LWMP) process, allows dilution to be considered. Participants questioned how harmonization could be achieved given that the approach proposed by Environment Canada does not consider dilution. Participants stated that local governments have placed considerable investment into LWMP and that "everything is managed according to the concept of initial dilution zones." It was suggested that plans under the provincial LWMP process must be acceptable as a substitute for a pollution prevention plan. In the St. John's session, participants reported that Newfoundland and Labrador has "a regulation which considers the end of pipe discharges and a policy document which reflects on the impacts of mixing zone considerations."

There was some concern that the instrument proposed by Environment Canada would duplicate or complicate provincial efforts in managing wastewater effluents. Participants in some sessions noted that provincial requirements and regulations are already well-developed and managed through, for example, Certificates of Approval for wastewater facilities. In Quebec, participants observed that "changes to treatment plants require an application for an authorization certificate issued by the provincial government." In the Prairie provinces, participants were concerned that a municipality could develop a plan that is in conflict with a provincial authority. This concern was echoed in Ontario, where participants cautioned that the provincial Certificates of Approval may be in conflict with pollution prevention planning requirements, or there may be the need for plants to re-certify.

In some sessions, participants questioned whether the federal government is doing the provinces' work. In the Atlantic sessions it was stated that "ammonia discharges and the use of chlorine as a disinfectant in wastewater treatment processes are clearly regulated by the provinces - through the conditions imposed in wastewater treatment plant operating certificates or in water resource protection requirements." In Whitehorse, participants noted that territorial regulations already exist and that "the entire issue has been over-regulated."

Some participants wondered about the extent of consultation with the provinces that had taken place during the development of the instrument and their ongoing involvement. In Winnipeg, participants felt that "there should have been more provincial involvement before the proposed pollution prevention planning approach was rolled out to municipalities."

Participants noted that information about the requirement for preparing and implementing pollution prevention plans and their associated timelines should be communicated through the province to all municipalities. Municipalities are more used to dealing with provincial regulators than the federal government. In Ontario, for example, participants observed that "Environment Canada and the provinces need to work together especially in the areas of communication, planning and enforcement." In the Edmonton session, it was suggested that the provinces (in this case Alberta Environment) create a sample pollution prevention plan for use as a template by municipalities.

Other suggestions and comments around federal/provincial relations included:

  • It is important that timelines be agreed to by both federal and provincial jurisdictions.
  • To avoid duplication, Environment Canada is encouraged to work through provincial environment departments or territorial water management boards.
  • Environment Canada should consider using the classification component of the Operator Certification Program to select systems for which pollution prevention plan would be requested.
  • If a facility's permit already has ammonia limits, then it should be exempt from this process for ammonia.
  • There should be a fast-track or streamlined process to implement pollution prevention options through the federal and provincial environmental assessment process and Ontario approvals process.
  • The screening criteria to determine if a pollution prevention plan is required should first assess whether the province has an acceptable management program for ammonia and/or chlorination of municipal wastewater. If there is, then a pollution prevention plan would not be required.

Some participants observed that municipalities are not used to working with the federal government - "municipalities are normally controlled by the province" (Ontario). In Quebec, concern was expressed that municipalities would experience confusion regarding the provincial and federal roles. Some participants felt stronger, noting that "municipalities do not want to be regulated by Ottawa - period" (Winnipeg).

Some participants felt that the pollution prevention planning initiative should be administered by the provinces on behalf of Environment Canada. In Ontario, participants noted that the province could "act as a liaison between municipalities and the federal government to funnel information."

Some participants called for the development of a formal structure to facilitate cross-government cooperation and collaboration. In Quebec, for example, participants suggested that an "interprovincial harmonization committee" be created; in Ontario, participants suggested the establishment of a federal/provincial/ municipal group "that works together to develop a long-term strategy for the municipality."

Environment Canada and the Fisheries Act

Many participants felt that, in addition to harmonization with provincial requirements, pollution prevention planning should be harmonized with the requirements of the Fisheries Act.

A major area of concern was due diligence. Differing opinions were expressed on the implications of pollution prevention planning for potential Fisheries Act violations. Many participants expressed concern that municipalities would be open to prosecution under the Fisheries Act. For example, in Ontario, participants felt that pollution prevention planning would not provide protection against prosecution under the Fisheries Act, as "whole effluent toxicity could be caused by substances other than chlorine or ammonia." Some participants felt that pollution prevention planning would provide some measure of due diligence defense.

Many participants raised questions of clarification regarding the relationship between pollution prevention planning under CEPA 1999 and the Fisheries Act. Participants sought assurance that Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had worked closely together to ensure that the proposed risk management objectives and criteria were consistent with the Fisheries Act. In British Columbia, concern was expressed that there is a risk that the strength of the Fisheries Act could be compromised as a result of this CEPA process.

Also, Ontario participants raised the issue that Environment Canada is focused on specific substances rather than adopting an overall approach to managing wastewater effluents as a whole.

Compliance and Enforcement

Some participants suggested that the enforcement measures and penalties for non-compliance with the requirements of the proposed instrument need to be clarified. There was concern that the instrument needs to have "teeth" to be effective.

Some participants pointed to the flexibility of the timelines as a potential cause of inaction and non-compliance. For example, some participants in British Columbia commented that the timelines may be strict on paper, but the built-in flexibility and options to extend the timelines through requests for time extensions may provide excuses for inaction. "There is no clear picture of what is expected of municipalities and no clear 'goalposts' for either risk management objectives or the timelines." In the Atlantic sessions, participants observed that the "establishment and enforcement of timelines is critical to a successfully implemented management plan."

There was some concern that the proposal depends on "voluntary compliance," (i.e., the onus is on an entity to recognize that it is selected and then prepare a pollution prevention plan). Participants in British Columbia felt that Environment Canada is ignoring research that shows that voluntary measures are not successful. Some participants suggested that Environment Canada publish a list of entities required to prepare and implement pollution prevention plans under CEPA 1999.

Many participants see a need for transparency, accountability and public access to pollution prevention plans. In British Columbia, for example, it was noted that public confidence will not be achieved if plans are not made public. One participant suggested that the plans should be posted on a municipality's web-site. Some participants in Ontario thought that provinces should approve pollution prevention plans as part of the Certificate of Approval process. Other Ontario participants thought that pollution prevention plans should be reviewed and approved by Environment Canada.

Performance Measurement

Many participants suggested that there needs to be a follow-up process to determine if pollution prevention plans are successful. In Ontario, participants recommended that "a review period be established to measure whether pollution prevention planning is working by 2005." In the Atlantic sessions it was noted that "the effectiveness of pollution prevention plans will need to be measured, evaluated and verified. Measurement criteria will therefore need to be built into plans."

Part of the problem seems to stem from the perception that, as participants in the Saskatoon session commented, "there seems to be no real conclusion to the process." Another key source of concern for participants is that declarations, rather than pollution prevention plans, are submitted to Environment Canada. Many participants would prefer that Environment Canada review pollution prevention plans to ensure a consistent approach and content.

Long-term Strategy Implications

Many participants were concerned with the notion of preparing pollution prevention plans without knowing the components of the long-term strategy. In the Yukon, participants cautioned that the "goalposts don't move halfway through the five-year pollution prevention planning process." Participants were concerned that investments could potentially be misdirected and that mistakes could be made in infrastructure development. For example, in the Edmonton session, participants noted that "efforts and investments may be concentrated on wastewater, only to have other sources of pollution, such as storm water, added in the long-term strategy." In the Atlantic provinces, participants observed that "the inclusion of other toxic substances could influence infrastructure decisions."

In addition, there was concern that it would be difficult to bolster political and public support when the full details and long-term requirements are unknown. In the Winnipeg session, participants wondered if a strong level of buy-in and commitment could be achieved when the end strategy is not known: "Political or senior management. . .is not likely to support pollution prevention planning without knowing long-term impacts."

Many participants observed that information about the long-term strategy should be communicated to stakeholders as it evolves. For example, in Quebec, participants suggested that "any components of the long-term objectives should be relayed as soon as they are anticipated or known, so that investments can be appropriately guided." In British Columbia, there was a recommendation that consultations with local governments be undertaken during the early stages of the long-term strategy development.


Across the country, participants expressed concern about the availability and sources of funding to support pollution prevention plans. Some participants felt that the costs associated with the proposed approach were being "passed down to the municipalities" (Ontario).

Many participants observed that some communities would have significant difficulties funding the type of infrastructure projects that will need to be put in place. In Ontario, participants felt that some communities would be "hard pressed to find the necessary funds." Participants were also concerned that regional disparities would affect the ability to have a "level playing field" across the country.

Municipalities have other competing priorities, many of which also have human health or environmental drivers. Drinking water was the example mentioned most frequently by participants. In the Yellowknife session, participants observed that "there are limited financial resources that are allocated to a number of issues including housing, health issues and drinking water." Participants also noted that the availability (or lack thereof) of funds will affect the type of pollution prevention plan that is developed. Some participants in Ontario noted that they may not get support from their Council to address chlorine and ammonia because these substances are not a high priority. Some participants stated that municipalities may have difficulty obtaining funds to achieve the RMOs if they are not a regulatory requirement.

In a number of sessions it was suggested that the federal government be the provider of funds for the preparation of pollution prevention plans and to upgrade treatment systems as required, and that all municipalities (even those not triggered) receive such funding. Participants in Ontario suggested that two types of funding be available: short-term to help with engineering studies (such as the Green Municipal Enabling Fund under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities) and long-term funding for capital/infrastructure investments. Some participants suggested a "funding formula specific to wastewater plants and required upgrades."

There was also concern regarding the equity of funding schemes to support pollution prevention planning. For example, a municipality may have previously applied its own funds to upgrade facilities to a level where they already meet the risk management objectives, and therefore do not have to prepare a pollution prevention plan. Some participants felt that communities in this position should also receive similar funding as may be provided to communities developing plans, which can be applied to other environmental infrastructure upgrades or programs. In other words, communities should be rewarded for having sound wastewater management practices in place.

Other suggestions regarding funding included:

  • When determining the cost of plans, include such factors as energy requirements and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Funding must be applied equally to all affected - for example, water commissions should not be treated differently than municipalities in terms of eligibility for funding.
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