Canada-Quebec agreement on acts and regulations applicable to wastewater systems in Quebec wastewater sector: strategic environmental assessment public statement

A review of the potential environmental impacts of lifting the application of the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations for Quebec wastewater systems subject to the equivalency agreement. 

In Canada, the management of wastewater is subject to shared jurisdiction. This has led to inconsistent regulatory regimes and varying levels of treatment across the country. Interested parties indicated the need for all levels of government to develop a harmonized approach to managing the wastewater sector.

The Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER) were developed under the Fisheries Act in 2012. The goal of the WSER is to reduce the threats to fish, fish habitats and human health from fish by decreasing the amount of harmful substances discharged to water frequented by fish. The WSER delivered on a federal commitment set out in the 2009 Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Canada (CCME) Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent.

Since 2012, the Fisheries Act allows the federal government to enter into equivalency agreements through orders in councils. Such agreements may be entered into only if provincial provisions are deemed to be equivalent in effect to provisions of the federal regulation. In 2014, Quebec implemented a regulation applying to municipally owned wastewater systems and expressed strong interest in having an equivalency agreement with the WSER.

An equivalency agreement with Quebec, covering wastewater systems subject to federal regulatory requirements and the provincial regime, has been developed under the Fisheries Act. The equivalency agreement and the Order Declaring that the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations Do Not Apply in Quebec (Order) will result in only the provincial regulatory regime applying in Quebec to systems subject to the equivalency agreement.

The equivalency agreement will not have an effect on the environment since the provincial and federal regulations are considered equivalent in effect. The equivalency agreement and the Order will increase regulatory clarity and efficiency for the vast majority of Quebec wastewater systems owners and operators and will result in streamlined wastewater reporting. The equivalency agreement is expected to:

  • reduce regulatory and administrative burden for regulatees

Considering the reduction of the regulatory burden, the compliance costs and the related administrative costs, the equivalency agreement could:

  • increase compliance
  • reduce the overall risks from wastewater effluent

The finalization of the equivalency agreement fulfills the federal commitment made as part of the 2009 Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Strategy. It demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to provincial and territorial agreements. It also supports good working relationships with provinces, including Quebec.

The equivalency agreement with Quebec contributes to the achievement of the 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) goals and 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), taken in the context of the United Nations:

  • Pristine lakes and rivers FSDS goal and SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation
  • Healthy coasts and oceans FSDS goal and SDG 14 Life below water
  • Low carbon government FSDS goal
  • Effective action on climate change FSDS goal and SDG 13 Climate action

The equivalency agreement will support economic growth. It will also indirectly promote human health through fish and fish habitat protection and the use of fish for human consumption. There will be:

  • consistent wastewater effluent quality standards
  • reporting requirements
  • compliance timelines for municipally owned wastewater systems

Reduced regulatory duplication and greater regulatory efficiency will be achieved in Quebec.

The equivalency agreement will be evaluated every 5 years to ensure effectiveness, relevance and environmental sustainability is maintained.  

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