CORNER BROOK — With new wastewater regulations coming down the pipe a lot quicker than anticipated, some municipalities may find themselves unprepared to meet the standards that will be imposed on them.
The new regulations announced last week are designed to ensure waste water is treated before being released back into bodies of water.
Municipalities will be impacted the most by the new regulations and each town and city will be ranked according to its risk level, from low to medium to high. The high-risk municipalities will only have until 2020 to comply with the new regulations, while medium-risk municipalities will have until 2030 and those considered lowest-risk will have until 2040.
The risk level will be determined by factors such as the size of the community, the amount of effluent produced and the size of the water body which receives the wastewater.
While an official list of municipalities and their corresponding risk level has yet to be released, the co-chairperson of Corner Brook's sewage treatment committee expects the city will likely be labelled as high risk.
"There is a small possibility it may be medium, but based on calculations that we and others have looked at, we expect Corner Brook will be given the high designation and have to meet these regulations by 2020," said Sheldon Peddle.
It is possible, added Peddle, that Corner Brook may have to begin monitoring wastewater — along parameters such as levels of residue chlorine and ammonia — and publicly reporting on those findings, starting as early as January 2013.
The City of Corner Brook did commission a consultant to produce a sewage treatment plan in 2004. That plan, adopted by the city in 2006, involved a phased-in approach with the first step being primary sewage treatment, namely the removal of solid material from the wastewater.
The next phase would involve secondary treatment of the wastewater before it was returned to the Humber Arm.
The new federal regulations require secondary treatment and not just primary treatment.
Based on the numbers in the 2006 report, the project would cost between $24 million and $32 million. More recent estimates, said Peddle, have pegged the cost of a full sewage treatment plant, including secondary treatment, at possibly $60 million.
If such a project was equally cost-shared by the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, the city would still be on the hook for $20 million.
"The thing is, there are no new dollars available at the federal government level dedicated solely to sewage treatment," said Peddle, adding that municipalities may have to access funding sources currently tapped into for other infrastructure projects.
"So, it's going to take quite a bit of prioritizing on behalf of municipalities. It will be interesting to see how municipalities manage it."
No one from the City of Corner Brook was available to discuss the new regulations Monday.
The issue of sewage treatment has been a major topic of discussion at the municipal level for years, and Peddle said communities have known for quite some time that these new regulations were coming. He said Corner Brook may be a little ahead of several other places in that it has adopted some sort of a plan and has a pool of tax money from the sewage levy it charges businesses and residents.
"But that sewage levy fund is nowhere near $20 million," said Peddle.
Smaller communities that primarily depend on septic tank systems to manage their sewage, noted Peddle, may be readjusting their attitudes if they think moving to a collective municipal sewage treatment system is progress.
"These regulations may give some of these communities pause for thought and realize it may be best for them to stay on these septic systems so they are not impacted by these regulations," he said. "A properly installed and maintained septic system is a far superior form of sewage treatment."