CORNER BROOK — The challenge of addressing solid waste management in western Newfoundland is tough enough.
New federal wastewater treatment regulations, says Tony Oxford, certainly won't make things any easier for towns and cities trying to come to terms with these environmental challenges.
The Cox's Cove mayor is also chairperson of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador's environmental committee. The communities under the MNL umbrella have not discussed the new wastewater regulations much yet, but that will likely be a hot topic when the committee meets again in the fall.
"We have spent very little in coming to terms with the provincial regulations and the solid waste management strategy," said Oxford. "So, there's a fair amount of expense still to be had in that regard ... If they set deadlines for wastewater treatment, then all of that expense is going to be occurring concurrently with the solid waste and the big question is, where is all this money going to come from?"
The wastewater treatment regulations announced by the federal government last week stipulate that municipalities will have to not only provide primary, but also secondary, treatment of all wastewater before it is returned to the environment. Depending on the amount of effluent and body of water that receives it post-treatment, municipalities will have to comply by either 2020, 2030 or 2040.
Treating effluent will be a costly venture for any municipality and no federal funding has been announced yet to help out.
"There's no doubt in anybody's mind it's going to be at a tremendous cost to bring the country up to the standards just announced," said Oxford.
In 2009, the provincial government refused to sign off on the new regulations because of the lack of federal funding to support the capital infrastructure required to treat wastewater.
Environment and Conservation Minister Terry French said there are nearly three dozen communities in the province that currently have secondary treatment of wastewater, but he is not sure if they all meet the standards just announced by the federal government. There are another 150 or so more that will definitely have to be brought up to scratch.
Even though it may be spread out over a 30-year period, French said the price tag for the province is estimated to be as much as $5 billion. Then, there's the operational costs of maintaining these systems and the monitoring and reporting the regulations also call for.
"This all adds up to significant costs for municipalities and, when it hits municipalities, it hits the provincial government as well," said the minister.
French said the province is in the process of negotiating administrative agreements with the federal government that will identify and generate an inventory of areas that need to be upgraded.
"I believe there is going to be a financial figure attached to that, which is promising, but we are still a long way off in this province," he said, adding something should be in place in early 2013.
Considering some communities have multiple outfalls scattered about or have challenging geographical settings, French said coming up with ways to meet the wastewater regulations is going to be tough.
"I would love to see secondary treatment on every bit of wastewater in the province, but it comes with a price tag that's a big concern for us," he said.