St. John's and its largest neighbours say they will not be able to meet stringent federal requirements on wastewater without either having to raise taxes or get help from senior levels of government.
The federal government is forcing municipalities to meet much tighter requirements within the coming years, at a hefty cost.
In fact, the St. John's system — which also processes water flushed in Mount Pearl and Paradise — will need an upgrade of about $125 million. That follows a cost of $180 million that taxpayers have already paid to build the Riverhead processing system, on the south side of St. John's harbour.
"We all know that this has to happen from an environmental point of view. No one is saying 'no', but the ability of municipalities to raise the kind of money that's required to meet those standards is limited," said St. John's Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff.
The federal government expects major systems across the country to have undergone upgrades by 2020.
Mount Pearl Coun. John Walsh said the upgrades will mean a pinch for property owners.
"It always gets passed on to taxpayers, regrettably, but there is no other way to pay for it," Walsh said.
Still, municipalities would like to see costs shared with the provincial and federal governments.
"There's only so much money that taxpayers can pay and somebody has to step up," said Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is lobbying Ottawa to help municipalities meet the new standards with additional funding.