Brockville gets a “B” grade in an environmental watchdog group's most recent report card on sewage plants along the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes system.
But the city's environmental services director says that, were that same survey taken today, the grade would likely be an “A.”
Ecojustice, which describes itself as a national charitable organization dedicated to defending Canadians' right to a healthy environment, this week issued its “2013 Great Lakes Sewage Report Card.”
The study ranks 12 Ontario municipalities for their sewage treatment and discharges. London and Windsor tied for last place in the survey, while Peel Region placed first. The report ranks Brockville in sixth place.
The environmental group described the pollution outlined in its report as including “a foul cocktail of biological and chemical pollutants, including human waste, bacteria such as E. coli, and toxic chemicals.”
It's the second such report card the group has issued, the first having come out in 2006.
Ecojustice staff scientist Liat Podolsky, the report’s author, acknowledged Brockville is “about middle of the bunch,” indicating there is room for improvement.
“Green infrastructure is a big one,” said Podolsky, adding the city could boost its ranking by installing “green roofs,” and ensuring there are more wetlands and vegetation around to soak up rainfall before it can overload a sewage system.
“The less concrete, the better it is,” she said.
Among the different criteria making up the ranking, Brockville gets an “A” for compliance with federal regulations, but “C” or “C+” grades in such areas as treatment level, effluent quality, wet-weather bypasses and having an “up to date sewer-use bylaw.”
In describing Brockville, the report notes that, while there are no combined sewers, Brockville's sanitary and storm sewers pass through a shared manhole.
“In a large rain event, the storm sewer can … pass over into the sanitary sewer over a dividing wall in the manhole,” it adds.
Brockville environmental services director Peter Raabe said that is actually a good thing. In fact, city officials are working at separating the manholes because when overflows happen, rather than spilling sewage into the storm sewer and into the river, the opposite happens: rain water goes to the sewage plant.
“You're incurring costs for cleaning clean water,” said Raabe.
The primary issue in the Ecojustice report, the effluent, has already been solved with the recent upgrade of the city's sewage treatment plant, said Raabe. He noted the report is based on 2011 effluent data, before the new plant came on line.
“We went from a primary facility to a secondary treatment and our numbers are just phenomenal, so our treatment level would go to an 'A,' in my opinion at least,” said Raabe.
Wet-weather bypasses happen when severe storms overload the main pumping station at Centeen Park, a problem the city is now trying to address, said Raabe.
As for the sewer use bylaw, staffers are now working on a draft of a new bylaw, to be presented to council next year, he said.
Raabe agreed “green infrastructure” would be great “in an ideal world where money's no object.”
Podolsky acknowledged the plant has had a significant improvement.
“The upgrade from primary to secondary recently is a very big step,” she said.
ONTARIO'S ‘DIRTY DOZEN’
The environmental group Ecojustice issued a 22-question survey to 25 municipalities along the Great Lakes basin and based its latest report card on the ones it got back.
Here are the worst sewage-polluting cities in the Great Lakes system, and the grades given them for dealing with the problem:
12. Windsor (C-)
11. London (C-)
10. Toronto (C)
9. St. Catharines (C)
8. Sudbury (C)
7. Sarnia (C+)
6. Brockville (B)
5. Midland (B)
4. Kitchener-Waterloo (B+)
3. Collingwood (B+)
2. York and Durham (B+)
1. Peel Region (A-)