Raw sewage: 101 Quebec municipalities dumping into waterways

Montreal is grabbing headlines for its plan to dump 8-billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River, but 101 other Quebec municipalities regularly discharge untreated, unfiltered effluent.

Montreal is getting the headlines but the problem is widespread, advocates say

Raw sewage from Chute-aux-Outardes flows into the Outardes River, which then empties into the St. Lawrence River. (Radio-Canada)

While Montreal grabs headlines for its plan to dump 8-billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River, 101 other municipalities regularly discharge their wastewater into Quebec's waterways without treatment or filtration, Radio-Canada has learned.

One of them, Chute-aux-Outardes, near Baie-Comeau, has been dumping 310-million litres of wastewater into the Outardes River each year since the 1950s.

That means the Outardes receives 850,000 litres of contaminated effluent each day, which then flows to the St. Lawrence River.

The mayor of Chute-aux-Outardes could not be reached for comment. However, the mayor of the neighbouring town, Ragueneau, said he has had enough.

It's not as glamorous to invest in pipes and sewers,- Martine Chatelain, Eau Secours

"It's not normal that in 2015 we're still dumping our sewage into streams, then in our river. Something must be done. We have the will to do it, and we will do it," said Mayor Joseph Imbeault.

Normand Bissonnette, the executive director of a non-profit organization that oversees the Manicouagan watershed in the Baie-Comeau region, said he is well aware of the situation.

"Some municipalities have primary treatment. Others dump directly into waterways. It has never been acceptable, but often it is ignored," he said.

Sewers not as popular as libraries or roads

Water-treatment advocates say fixing the situation is a question of priorities.

Municipal leaders prefer to spend money on libraries, sports arenas and roads, said Martine Chatelain, the president of Eau Secours – a coalition of Quebec groups promoting responsible water management.

"It's not as glamorous to invest in pipes and sewers," Chatelain said.

But the stink raised by Montreal's plans to dump sewage is a good thing, advocates such as Chatelain say, as it's finally drawing attention to the much wider problem across Quebec.

"If Montreal's problem hadn't been known, many Quebecers wouldn't know that there's a crisis happening now," Chatelain said.

Municipalities with a sewage system in place have until the end of the year to present an action plan to treat their wastewater and until December 2020 to develop a wastewater treatment plant.


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