If the City of Montreal has their way, one of the most iconic rivers in Canada could soon be used as a sewage dump.

Recently, the city announced it intends to dump eight billion litres of wastewater into the St. Lawrence River from October 18-25, if given the green light from Environment Canada.  The city is taking down the Bonaventure Expressway, and during the construction wants to divert a sewer interceptor to release sewage into the river.  Environment Canada is currently reviewing Montreal’s plans, even though it says that it cannot authorize the deposit of harmful substances into fish habitats.

The city’s plan to pollute will mean that Montreal residents will be prevented from swimming, drinking, fishing or having any direct contact with the water for over a week during and just after the dump.

A number of groups are already speaking out against this plan. Scientists and engineers say that the dump could  harm the river ecosystem and downstream communities.  New York State Senator Patty Ritchie urged the International Joint Commission to look into the plan.  And thousands of people have already expressed a concern.

This all flows into the issue of wastewater in general, which is Canada’s biggest source of water pollution. A 2013 Ecojustice report found that municipal sewage discharges cause biological and chemical pollutants, including bacteria such as E.Coli and toxic chemicals that make water unsafe for wildlife and recreation. In neighbourhoods that have combined storm and sanitary sewers, pollution from sewer overflows is an issue that requires municipal investment in infrastructure. 

Just this summer Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change completed a report finding that heavy rains can force raw sewage into Lake Ontario by causing combined sewer bypasses. The province made it mandatory for the City of Toronto to tell the public when heavy storms impaired water quality.

Meanwhile Quebec’s Environment Minister approved of Montreal’s plan to dump raw sewage into the St. Lawrence. And Montreal’s Mayor says they have no choice. A Montreal resident initiated a petition asking to stop the dump until studies can prove minimal short, medium or long term effects. Instead of dumping 3,200 Olympic sized swimming pools of pollution into the river, the petition proposes:

  • setting up a temporary treatment plant
  • pumping and disposal of wastewater
  • construction of an auxiliary duct to channel wastewater away for treatment

We need to make it loud and clear to Montreal that there needs to be a better solution that doesn’t send pollution down the river’s banks. You can help by contacting the mayor to share your concerns and spreading the word on social media by using the hashtag #stopthesewage.