Delegates at the AMM annual convention want the provincial government to back off on regulations that will phase out and ban new installations of sewage ejectors.
The Onsite Wastewater Management Systems regulation, which would cover installations from private dwellings and businesses which generate a waste water flow of less than 10,000 litres per day, drew the ire of many delegates last week.
Tom Campbell, reeve of the R. M. of Albert, noted that a meeting held in Souris with government officials earlier this year had not swayed government from going through with its plan, despite widespread opposition.
“Does the government not listen?” he asked. “We told them we didn’t want this.”
The AMM resolution, which was passed by a unanimous vote, was aimed at lobbying Manitoba Conservation to have the new regulation only applied on a case-by-case basis in high-risk areas where there are scientifi cally justified environmental concerns.
Sandy Sanderson, reeve of the R. M. of Glenwood, said that the proposed regulation’s prohibition on all new sewage ejector installations, and the requirement that in the event of property transfers, the old ejector be decomissioned and replaced with a disposal field or holding tank, represented an unjustified burden on rural farms and businesses.
“The issue of sewage ejectors – that part of the regulation – to coin a phrase, stinks. It is not required in the rural areas of Manitoba. It has the potential to cost the owner of a farm $20,000 if they sell the farm and take out the ejector to put in a field or a holding tank,” said Sanderson.
Councillor Bill Fleury, of the R. M. of Woodlands, said that there was no “scientific proof” backing up the ban on sewage ejectors, particularly with regard to the possibility of harmful pathogens entering drinking water.
“No one has died from a sewage ejector – ever,” he said. “People have died from the H1N1 vaccine, but I don’t see them running out and banning that vaccine. This overreaction by the province has to be addressed immediately. We can’t afford this luxury.”
He added that the septic fields being proposed to replace existing sewage ejectors are not a perfect solution, and could in some cases become waterlogged and allow untreated waste to seep to the surface anyway. “The City of Winnipeg is spreading the same kind of sludge on farmland with no problems,” he said.
Later in the week, delegates voiced their concerns to newly appointed Premier Greg Selinger in the ministerial forum “bearpit,” a long-standing AMM convention tradition.
In his response to repeated queries on what was clearly a hot-button issue among delegates, Selinger used the word “practical” at least seven times when referring to strategies for resolving the concerns of municipal officials and landowners.
“I have said that the regulation will have to stay in place, but when it comes to implementation, I think we have to show some flexibility in how we do this,” he said.
He suggested that deputy ministers from the ministries of Water Stewardship and Conservation meet with municipal officials to find a solution that respected the concerns of landowners while at the same time protecting waterways and lakes from eutrophication.
“I think if we can put a practical working group together, I think we can find practical ways to move forward on this,” he said.
Although he noted that seven other provinces have already banned ejectors, Selinger also expressed a willingness to look at unconventional, low-cost ways of handling household sewage effluent, such as peat moss traps and artificial wetlands.
On the wider subject of water quality and phosphorus removal from municipal sewage, he added that he favoured the use of biological methods over the use of chemicals on the grounds that they would allow recycling of phosphorus, a critically important nutrient.
Government seems to want to “urbanize all of us,” said John Hogg of Shoal Lake. He called for “realism” in the enforcement of regulations to match the dwindling resources available in the countryside.
“If we have to obey them to the letter of the law, we won’t have the service,” he said. “Is a service that is not quite as perfect as we would like better than no service at all?”
Selinger responded by saying that making rural areas more attractive to immigrants and cutting red tape were among his government’s priorities. As an aside, he predicted that rural communities stood to benefi t from future climate change adaptation strategies and programs.
“The reality is that not everybody could – or should – be living in mega-cities that are congested and polluted.” [email protected]