BY MIKE DE SOUZA, POSTMEDIA NEWS NOVEMBER 15, 2010
OTTAWA — Cracking down on water pollution from raw sewage is a "morality" issue that must be done in partnership between governments, federal Environment Minister John Baird said Monday.
Baird made the comments after several cities expressed concern about the departure of former environment minister Jim Prentice. Municipal leaders from across the country said they believed Prentice was starting to understand their concerns about financing waste water system upgrades and improvements required by the regulations.
Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly has said that without adequate financial support, the regulations would result in the "single largest municipal tax increase in Canadian history." Others have warned that it could force their municipalities to dramatically slash other investments in maintaining roads, bridges or services such as public transit.
But Baird, who will meet with municipal representatives later this week, stressed that it was essential to resolve the waste water issue.
"It is not an environmental issue," he said Monday. "It is a morality question to be dumping . . . what essentially is raw sewage into our lakes, rivers, oceans and streams."
He added that the federal government had already provided some financial support through various infrastructure programs and was prepared to continue when the existing programs expire in 2014.
"I think many, many Canadian municipalities have made significant investments to do the right thing," he said. "Other municipalities struggled, and obviously, we'll be there with municipalities over the next 20-odd years . . . as that is implemented."
Prentice, who resigned this month to accept a banking job in the new year, had released the proposed regulations in March. They are slated to come into force in phases under the federal Fisheries Act.
Municipal waste water operators at "high risk" would be required to meet the new standards within 10 years. Those considered a medium risk would have 20 years, while low-risk operators would have 30 years to meet the requirements. Cities have estimated the regulations could cost up to $20 billion across the country, requiring replacements or major improvements to one out of every four waste water systems.
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