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Ontario puts brakes on Upper York sewage plan after eight-year wait

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Duffin-Creek-WWTP
The Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant can process some 630 million litres per day, and would not need to be expanded for some 20 years. The plant has already received investments of more than $850 million over the last 25 years. Photo credit: Durham Region

The Ontario government has nixed York Region’s plan for its long-proposed Upper York Sewage Solution, and instead approved expedited improvements to the existing York-Durham Sewage System network connected to the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant.

Co-owned and operated by York and Durham Regions, the Duffin Creek facility operates at approximately 50% capacity, and the proposal would add an additional 12% to current flow levels, “meaning it has the capacity to ensure every litre of water the plant receives gets high quality treatment,” the province announced.

The plant can process some 630 million litres per day, and would not need to be expanded for some 20 years. The plant has already received investments of more than $850 million over the last 25 years.

Since 2014, the three municipalities have worked to find a wastewater solution that can handle future growth in those communities. But, the  option of sending wastewater from Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury to a new treatment plant that discharges into Lake Simcoe has drawn criticism from Indigenous communities and environmentalists worried about the lake’s health.

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The new decision, which came eight years after the project was introduced, but immediately after October’s municipal election, is based on recommendations made by the York Region Wastewater Advisory Panel, formed in 2021, after more than $100 million was already spent on the environmental assessment and design of the Upper York Sewage Solution.

In its report, the panel found that the Upper York plan would create higher greenhouse gas levels and phosphorus loading limits than the Duffin Creek expansion. Additionally, the Upper York plan would not fully align with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

“Our government is proposing a solution that ensures the most robust wastewater treatment as these communities continue to grow,” announced David Piccini, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, in a statement. “The Duffin Creek treatment facility is one of the best performing wastewater facilities in the province that ensures the protection, enjoyment and welfare of Lake Ontario, shoreline communities and nearshore areas,” he added.

The panel was informed that growth planned to 2051 would add approximately 9,000 acres to Durham’s urban boundary, and approximately 575,000 people to the Region’s eight municipalities.

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