While the COVID-19 pandemic may seem to be overwhelming every level of government, there is still a lot going on at the federal level to keep your Canadian Water and Wastewater Association busy.
2020 was to be a big milestone year for the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER). With reporting requirements coming into effect in 2015, utilities identified as highest risk were given a deadline of 2020 to complete upgrades – some with major upgrades. Many of these projects faced technical challenges, zoning challenges and, of course, financing challenges, but this year faced pandemic-related delays. There is almost no flexibility within the legislation, but the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has stated that its Enforcement Branch is exercising maximum leniency with those who are working diligently to make the upgrades. While they are not launching a full out ‘review’ of the WSER, ECCC did announce a number of administrative amendments they are proposing. Senior ECCC staff presented these proposals on CWWA’s national Window on Water webinar series. One major amendment allowed for an extended round of offering Transitional Authority Agreements with communities. This is to address some 230 wastewater systems in 130 communities across Canada that did not apply for this authority back in 2014. These communities will need to start monitoring their effluent and reporting to the ECCC to be in compliance. They will then be prioritized to either the 2030 or 2040 deadlines, unless a more urgent concern is identified. Two other proposed amendments address temporary authority for un-ionized ammonia and for by-passes during planned construction or infrastructure work. You are encouraged to review and comment on these amendments on the ECCC’s consultation site.
Meanwhile, Health Canada staff continue their review schedule of the Canada Drinking Water Guidelines. On the CWWA Window on Water webinar in July, they noted the completion of their reviews of E.coli, Aluminum and Boron, while they continue public consultation on Metribuzin, Diquat, Recreational Water Quality and the Monitoring of Microbial Water Quality in Distribution systems.
In the last federal election, the Prime Minister committed to establishing a new Canada Water Agency and this commitment was renewed in the most recent Budget. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of ECCC, has taken the lead in this effort and has reached out to the wider water community for input. CWWA and our Climate Change Committee made initial submissions to the Minister supporting this agency in a hope it will better focus the many federal departments dealing with water toward a national strategy. We also wanted to ensure that CWWA is recognized as the voice of the municipal water and wastewater sector. CWWA was subsequently invited to join a coalition of national water organizations advising the minister on what the mandate and scope of this new agency could be. This task is far from over and we encourage input from all of our members on what value they might see in such an agency.
I suppose I do have to write a bit about COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, we were facing railroad blockades that were threatening supply chains across Canada. CWWA was speaking for the utility sector to ensure we were recognized as a critical service to be given priority to receive critical supplies. As the pandemic hit, our advocacy continued and included recognizing water and wastewater workers as essential frontline workers requiring priority for PPE and other support services. CWWA’s website hosts pandemic resources from the federal government, WEF, AWWA, IWA, WHO and our own Pandemic Action Plans for utilities. CWWA also developed national guidance for the Re-Opening of Buildings after prolonged closure. Our documents provided direct guidance to building owners as well as advice to municipalities on how they can best assist their communities. CWWA has also been advocating for water and wastewater to be recognized as priorities for federal stimulus funding as our systems are essential for the health and economy of every community.
So, despite COVID-19 cancelling all of our live conferences, CWWA continues its primary goal of representing the Canadian water and wastewater sector to the federal government.