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Press release: Municipal water management in Quebec: The lowest standards on the continent, deteriorating networks and pollutants in our water

Municipal water management in Quebec:The lowest standards on the continent, deteriorating networks and pollutants in our water - an alarming situation, according to many observers and experts

Pierre Laferrière, president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal
Pierre Payment, researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier
Hubert Demard, spokesperson for Réseau Environnement
André Porlier, spokesperson for the Conseil régional de l'environnement de Montréal

Montreal, April 26, 2000 – "There are serious deficiencies in municipal water management in Quebec that are posing risks to the health of the population," said Pierre Laferrière, president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Pierre Payment, researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Hubert Demard, spokesperson for Réseau Environnement, and André Porlier, spokesperson for the Conseil régional de l'environnement de Montréal.

"Quebec standards for drinking water provided by its municipalities are inferior to those in the United States and other Canadian provinces," affirmed Dr. Pierre Payment, a microbiologist and water analysis expert. For example, Quebec allows up to five (5) nephelometric turbidity units in its water, while the standard recommended in Canada is only one NTU. In the United States that figure is only 0.5 NTU (and 0.3 as of 2001) and sampling is performed on a daily basis. In Quebec, the standard is only two samplings per year! Why should Quebecers accept much lower drinking water standards than other Canadians or Americans?

"Turbidity is a measure of extremely fine particles, invisible to the naked eye, that contain bacteria, viruses and parasites sometimes hidden within larger particles. When this happens, it becomes very difficult to destroy these disease-causing micro-organisms because they are resistant to disinfection," explains Dr. Payment. "Moreover," he adds, "some parasites found in river water following sewage discharge are so resistant to disinfection that the best way to eliminate them is through a superior filtration system. Such a system would easily allow us to achieve the 0.3 NTU standard set by the U.S. and therefore protect public health by eliminating these microbes."

"The standard in Quebec for measuring turbidity in city drinking-water networks is only twice a year, at intervals of between four and eight months. In the U.S. the standard is now one sampling every four hours. In fact, except for the networks in the province's major cities, we simply don't know, on a regular basis, the true quality of our water. And based on the current standards, this quality can seriously deteriorate over several months and we won't even know it until public health problems emerge. Is the evaluation of water quality rigorous enough in Quebec?"

Hubert Demard considers aqueduct maintenance to be severely lacking in Quebec overall. "Quebec has at least 25,000 kilometres of water distribution networks and just as many sewage networks. And while their state of disrepair is no secret, nor is the solution: the networks must be properly maintained and renovated. Ten years ago, North America adopted a network renovation program that called for upgrading 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the networks annually. In Quebec, only a few cities achieve or surpass the 0.5 percent annual renewal rate. We're leaving our children a dilapidated network that loses a high volume of treated water. Based on its own data, Montreal loses upwards of 40% of its water."

"All these factors result in an overproduction of drinking water [40 percent more than Ontario per capita] and excessive volumes of treated sewage effluent [60 percent more than Ontario], all of which have environmental and significant economic consequences. We must implement large-scale, long-term programs."

"For its part, the Conseil régional de l'environnement de Montréal deplores the municipal networks' inefficient sewage treatment, stated André Porlier, spokesperson for CRE-Montréal. For example, Montreal spent $1.4 billion to set up a treatment plant in Rivière des Prairies, but unfortunately, the existing wastewater treatment infrastructures of the MUC and most of Quebec's treatment plants are not able to treat the toxic effluent discharge by some industries into the municipal sewage system. The MUC plant alone receives over 800 tons of toxic material each year, half of which is discharged into the river. This must be stopped."

In the same vein, Mr. Porlier contends that the problem of overflows is undermining the MUC's efforts to reduce the impact of its wastewater on the river and human health. "In Montreal and in most MUC municipalities, paved areas and buildings prevent the natural percolation of rainwater into the ground. Consequently, during storms and heavy rains, excess wastewater that could not to be routed to the treatment plant is discharged into the river. This happened 18 times in 1997, the network interceptors having discharged over 22 million cubic metres of untreated water into the St. Lawrence and des Prairies Rivers.

"Renovating the collection network and prioritizing the improvement of overflow sites are measures that would reduce the negative effects of overflow. Moreover, it would be in the interest of the City of Montreal and MUC municipalities to increase rainwater absorption, reduce paved surfaces or build holding tanks in order to reduce the frequency, quantity and detrimental effects of overflow," concludes Mr. Porlier.

"But the worst thing," observes Dr. Payment, "is that Quebec's delay in disinfecting its municipal wastewater exposes the population to serious risks. Must we have a public health crisis on our hands before the standards are finally tightened and wastewater is properly treated?"

"We believe Quebec needs a serious wake-up call," concluded the Board of Trade president, the environmentalists and the water quality expert. "We must tighten the standards and at least raise them to the Canadian average in terms of quality and quality measurement. We must build better treatment plants and aqueducts in order to stop wasting water, and finally, we must hold municipalities accountable so that they will stop allowing polluting waste to filter into our waterways.

"We must find the means to measure and control our performance because we can only manage well what we know well. And right now, we don't know our municipal water management systems very well at all."

The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has more than 7 000 members. Its mission is to be the leading group representing the interests of the Greater Montreal business community.  The objectives are to maintain, at all times, relevance to its membership, credibility towards the public and influence towards government and decision-makers.

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