Consultations open for WSER upgrade extensions, temporary bypass authorizations

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*The following regulatory news article is intended to be an overview of the report or legislation and not a replacement for the actual guidance from the government. For the comprehensive data and all relevant information, please visit the linked source material within the article.

The federal government has opened consultation for proposed Regulations Amending the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations that would allow municipal extensions for wastewater system upgrades, as well as an expansion of temporary bypass authorizations. The aim of the proposed amendments is to create administrative flexibility and address gaps in the provisions.

The 60-day consultation for the proposed amendments would ensure the implementation of the Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent and the agreed upon timelines for upgrades to different risk levels of communities.

The federal government’s regulatory impact analysis statement estimates that the proposed amendments could save $55.7 million over 20 years. “These benefits include a streamlined application process for low-risk temporary bypasses, reduced enforcement-related costs, less frequent equipment recalibration, and reduced monitoring and reporting requirements,” the statement notes.

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The proposed Regulations Amending the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations (WSER) would allow municipal wastewater plant owners another opportunity to receive an extension — or transitional authorization — to upgrade their system. The initial deadline was 2014, a year the Department of the Environment issued 65 transitional authorizations. However, more than 100 eligible system owners did not apply for an extension. The majority (84%) of these wastewater systems are located in Newfoundland and Labrador, but there are some in every other province, except Nova Scotia.

While most wastewater systems were capable of achieving the new standards when they came into effect, approximately 13% of municipalities did not have infrastructure in place to meet them.

Depending on the level of risk of the wastewater system, a transitional authorization gave municipalities until the end of 2020 for high-risk systems to meet new standards, as well as 2030 for medium-risk systems, and 2040 for low-risk systems.

The proposed amendments provide another opportunity to apply for a transitional authorization to the end of 2030 or 2040, but also floats the possibility of no longer having an end date for when an application for a transitional authorization can be made, so that municipalities can still apply in the future.

Through 90 days of initial consultations on a discussion paper in 2021, the federal government said there was strong support for the extensions.

“Feedback was received that monitoring data used to apply for a transitional authorization needed to be accurate and representative of effluent quality,” the Department of Environment stated in the Canada Gazette. “As a result, the approach has been modified to allow the selection of 12 months of monitoring data within a 24-month period instead of over a 15-month period for an application.”

The proposed amendments would also reduce monitoring frequency for wastewater systems with no treatment from monthly to quarterly if they have a transitional authorization.

Bypass Authorization

The proposed amendments would create new requirements for temporary bypass authorizations for all planned maintenance, construction and upgrade activities occurring within wastewater infrastructure. Approximately 17% of total wastewater volumes are undertreated and released to the environment from wastewater systems that provide little or no treatment. The regulations manage these wastewater systems.

During initial consultations, stakeholders recognized that releases can “sometimes be unavoidable and support the development of requirements to minimize environmental impacts resulting from these releases,” according to the Canada Gazette.

The consultations highlighted the need to consider different approaches to assess risk and clarify terminology and requirements for different levels of releases. Based on this critical feedback, the Department was able to simplify the initial proposed approach to focus on the level of treatment, volume, duration, and receiving environment.

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