News Feature | August 22, 2018

Canada's Sewage Problem Is Getting Worse

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

At least 215 billion liters of raw sewage were spilled or leaked into Canadian waterways last year, according to data submitted to the government.

“Enough to fill 86,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, that represents an increase of 10 percent over the amount reported five years ago,” The Canadian Press reported.

Nevertheless, the majority of Canadian cities do not monitor real-time data of sewage discharges, the report stated.

“As a result, it’s unknown how much raw sewage flowed through overflow pipes when the storm overwhelmed the city’s treatment facilities,” the report said.

Environment Canada, the nation’s environmental regulatory agency, “does require municipal governments to report annually how much untreated wastewater is spilled, but settles for calculations that are based on computer models, rather than specific data of actual events,” it continued.

The Canadian Press provided a useful breakdown of statistics on the country’s sewage situation:

215 billion liters: Reported amount of untreated sewage flowing into Canadian waterways in 2017.

1.02 trillion liters: Reported amount of untreated sewage flowing out between 2013 and 2017.

269: Number of municipal water systems that are supposed to report sewage outflows to Environment Canada each year.

159: Number of municipal water systems that actually reported sewage outflows to Environment Canada each year.

1: Number of municipalities known to monitor the actual amount of sewage outflows versus a calculated estimate.

36 percent: Share of total leaks and spills in 2018 that came from British Columbia.

Canada is hardly alone. The U.S. faces major sewage challenges, as well.

“The U.S. EPA has called overflows from combined sewer systems ‘the largest category of our Nation’s wastewater infrastructure that still need to be addressed,’ affecting Americans in 32 states,” The Atlantic reported.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card on U.S. wastewater infrastructure last year. The nation received a D+.

“It’s expected that more than 56 million new users will be connected to centralized treatment systems over the next two decades, requiring at least $271 billion to meet current and future demands,” the report stated.