September 10, 2014

MOE rejects lower standards for West Credit

As published in The Erin Advocate

A suggestion by Mayor Lou Maieron to relax strict pollution standards so more new homes can be built in Erin has been rejected by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).

The mayor is upset that Orangeville, on the main part of the Credit River, is allowed to plan for substantial growth when it has higher levels of contamination than Erin, on the West Credit tributary.

“Why should Erin’s growth be limited to clean up (dilute) water pollution issues originating from Orangeville?” he said in a letter to Credit Valley Conservation (CVC). “Maybe Orangeville’s growth numbers should decrease and Orangeville can clean up their discharge rather than expect Erin not to grow.”

The MOE says the areas must be considered separately. It confirms that Erin will have to meet a much stricter set of rules for sewage discharge because the West Credit River is classified as a Policy One stream, meaning that the existing water quality is better than provincial standards and must be preserved.

The Credit River downstream of Orangeville is a Policy Two stream, already degraded to levels that are worse than provincial standards. Orangeville will be allowed to grow, including a 21% increase in sewage flow, but only if it uses treatment improvements and water conservation to avoid any higher contamination of the river. Maieron is asking why Erin cannot employ a similar strategy to allow for more growth.

For phosphorus in treated sewage effluent, Erin could only discharge .1 milligrams per litre (mg/L). Maieron suggests the limit could be raised to .2 mg/L, possibly enabling more homes to be built. Orangeville’s MOE objective for phosphorus is .4 mg/L, and Maieron says in his CVC letter that they are currently discharging at .5 mg/L.

The first column shows the strict provincial sewage standards for the West Credit River 
that are limiting the Town of Erin’s urban population growth. The second column 
shows the more lenient standards issued in 2009 for the more polluted section
 of the Credit River south of Orangeville. Some parameters have no direct comparison.

The mayor is looking for ways to accommodate provincial demands for population growth and promote economic development. He also wants to find solutions for developers like Solmar, whose subdivision plans are threatened by the population cap imposed by the MOE through the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) that has just been completed.

Between 2011 and 2031, Orangeville’s population is expected to grow from 28,000 to 36,500 if sufficient water and wastewater servicing is available. If the Town of Erin continues to reserve sewage capacity for its existing 4,500 urban residents (including Hillsburgh), only 1,500 new residents (500 homes) will be allowed once a sewer system is built. Growth would be about 30% in both cases, but Erin’s would be on a much smaller scale.

The mayor’s arguments about the river only hold water if both sections are treated as a single entity, based on combined water quality downstream of the Forks of the Credit. The MOE says the two branches must be regulated separately, with maximum protection in the west, and no further degradation in the east.

“The circumstances are so significantly different that it is inappropriate to compare the two settings,” said Mark Smithson, Regional Manager for the Technical Support Section of the MOE, in a letter to the Town of Erin.

He said Orangeville’s discharges have no impact on the assimilative capacity of the West Credit and that the MOE has followed a standard process that would apply to any Policy One stream, including a slight reduction in population to account for impacts of climate change.

The MOE does not provide infrastructure funding, and Smithson said discussions between the MOE and CVC were on technical points, since neither “has the ability or authority to make decisions that allocate development potential to a community.”

He noted that Erin would be building its first treatment plant, subject to today’s standards, while Orangeville’s dates back to 1929, and that sewage treatment would not be withdrawn from Orangeville.

“Each time that the Town has sought approval to permit expansion of its sewage treatment capacity, assimilative capacity studies have been required to demonstrate that the expansion would not result in any further impact,” he said. “In order to discharge a greater volume of effluent, Orangeville has been required to make process improvements that resulted in effluent of higher quality.”

Smithson says “improvement of water quality is encouraged”, and Orangeville’s quality is much better than it once was, but it appears the MOE is content with merely avoiding further degradation. With the Greater Toronto Area expecting an additional 2.5 million residents, for a total population of 8.9 million by 2036, perhaps improvement is too much to expect.

Still, it is worth asking, what if the MOE required sewage treatment improvements, without any housing growth? What would it take to transform the Credit River south of Orangeville into a Policy One stream? The answer is probably a whole lot of money and a more aggressive approach to the problem.