Billions of litres of untreated waste water and sewage flowed into Canadian waterways last year

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Despite federal regulations, billions of litres of raw sewage and untreated waste water flowed into Canada’s waterways last year.

Although the volume was supposed to drop after the Conservative government introduced new regulations in 2012, CBC News reports that more than 205 billion litres of untreated waste water spewed into the country’s oceans, lakes, and rivers in 2015, which is a 1.9 percent increase over 2014. It can be tough to visualize such a large amount, so consider this: it’s enough waste water to fill 82,255 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“My answer is that it’s not OK,” environment minister Catherine McKenna told CBC News, adding that this untreated water is one of the largest sources of pollution in Canada’s rivers and oceans.

According to reports, it’s a combination of raw sewage that’s pumped directly into waterways and untreated water that cities are sometimes forced to discharge to prevent it from backing up into homes when dealing with heavy rain or rapidly melting snow.

In an interview with CBC, former environment minister Peter Kent said that that Conservative government did provide money for infrastructure, but that many municipalities opted to build roads rather than sewage treatment plants, and have neglected to invest in their waste management systems for decades.

McKenna said that the Liberal government has committed to spending $2 billion specifically on waste water upgrades, but that still may not be enough. According to Karen Oldford, mayor of Labrador City and chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Atlantic region caucus, upgrades to waste water management don’t come cheap. She says it would cost an estimated $500 million for just the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to comply with federal standards.

“That’s just for the waste water. So communities want to do that but they really don’t have the money to move forward with it,” she said.

Although some provinces, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick, have improved their practices, several others have gotten worse. British Columbia, which reportedly dumps the most untreated waste water into rivers and oceans, dumped a total of 82.3 billion litres of waste water in 2015—a 32.7 percent increase from 2017. That’s likely because it’s both easier and cheaper for coastal communities to flush raw sewage into the sea.