Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia and Northern Pulp agree on water use rules

Peace has been declared between the Nova Scotia government and Pictou County's paper mill after a year-long battle over environmental standards.

Environment department's decision concerns outstanding items from mill's appeal last year

Northern Pulp had appealed the province's conditions on water usage in the industrial approval announced in January 2015. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Peace has been declared between the Nova Scotia government and Pictou County's paper mill after a year-long battle over environmental standards. 

On Monday, Environment Minister Margaret Miller announced the department's decision concerning the mill's water usage and the outstanding items from Northern Pulp's appeal of the five-year industrial approval issued last January.

In return, Northern Pulp has dropped its appeal of the industrial approval, which the company claimed was too restrictive. 

The mill had appealed last year's approval after it was ordered to cut water usage by more than 34 per cent. On July 9, 2015, the province removed the water usage orders pending a final decision, which was announced Monday.

"As a minister, it's all about environment, but we also have a responsibility to make sure that the factors that are brought in place don't deter the company from doing business in Nova Scotia," Miller said on Monday.

"We have to be sure about the security of Pictou County, the people there, and Nova Scotia."

Final decision

The biggest change overall is the province has eliminated conditions limiting how much effluent the mill is permitted to discharge. The original approval had ordered the mill to limit daily effluent to 67,500 cubic metres by Jan. 30, 2020.

"These conditions shall be deleted as regulation of the water usage will control the volume of effluent being discharged to the effluent treatment system," the minister's decision says. 

Another big change is the mill's new daily maximum of water consumption. It can consume no more than 92,310 cubic metres in a single day. That's been adjusted from the original condition of 63,000 cubic metres. 

The mill is also limited to a daily average of 80,000 cubic metres by Jan. 30, 2018, calculated over a full year. That average will be reduced to 70,000 by Jan. 30, 2020

"It was the study commissioned by internal services [of the provincial government] on the river and how much could be safely taken out," Miller said.  

More changes

Here's what else is new, according to the minister's decision:

  • The mill must propose a series of water consumption reduction projects.  
  • The mill must hire a third-party engineer to advise it on the impacts of those projects. The quality of effluent entering and being discharged from the effluent treatment system will also be reviewed.
  • The mill is being held to less rigorous total sulphur standards, which contributes to the odour in waste water. An annual report of waste water sulphur results must be submitted to the environment department by June 30 each year. 
  • The mill is no longer required to do a sustainability study of the Middle River watershed.

The mill's general manager said Northern Pulp with have a lot of work to do to meet the new limits, but it is pleased with the result.

"Working together to ensure the best environmental protection possible while maintaining the long-term stability and profitability of the mill was the best scenario for all involved," said Bruce Chapman. 

In addition to the water usage limits, the province also agreed to raise an annual cap on production of paper products at the mill to 330,000 tonnes from 310,000 tonnes. The production cap increase came outside the industrial approval appeal on water usage.

Provincial officials said the company had submitted a separate request for a change in recent weeks.

Chapman said the production cap increase means "that with significant capital projects to meet the water and other industrial conditions, the increased production provides the ability for Northern Pulp to generate revenue to fund these projects." 

The production cap was imposed to ensure the aging mill has was able to live within the pollution reduction targets set forth in the 2015 industrial approval.


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