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An emerging threat to the health of the Upper Rideau

We are again flagging an emerging threat to the health of the Upper Rideau.



The biggest single threat to the recovering health of the Upper Rideau Lake – beyond the changes posed by climate change itself—would be any decision by Westport Council to build a new sewage treatment plant to flow treated effluent into our lake. 


Such a wastewater (WW) facility would exist for decades and pose ongoing risks to our lake’s water quality and ecosystem. Decisions taken now would be “generational,” potentially impacting our children and grandchildren.

 

To be clear, Westport Council has not taken any decision to secure additional WW capacity, nor to construct a facility to flow treated effluent into the Upper Rideau.  However, the process to take a decision is well-underway.

(See Summary below)



Westport Wastewater Treatment Capacity Process to Date

Westport’s wastewater is treated in two lagoons, before being pumped into a sand and gravel sub-surface disposal system.  Westport staff have calculated that the current system will allow an additional 173 “connections” not including the first phase of Watercolour.  Under its current growth rate, therefore,


Westport likely has sufficient wastewater capacity for more than six years of growth, and possibly, even longer.

 

Nevertheless, the Village Council is exploring its wastewater options for future growth. Generally, Council has three choices:

1)  “Do nothing”:  continue to develop until the limits of the current system are met, and freeze development after that;

2)  “Subsurface” effluent disposal:  acquire additional land and build a new additional system similar to the current Village system; and


3)  “Surface water discharge”:  build a new wastewater treatment facility would discharges treated effluent into a nearby water body, most likely the Upper Rideau.

 

URLA is involved with the environmental review process.  For obvious reasons, our Lake Association is most concerned with the lake health impacts of the Option Three, any surface water discharge affecting the health of the Upper Rideau Lake.

 

To inform an eventual decision on additional wastewater capacity, the Village Council is commissioning an expensive engineering study, an “assimilative capacity study”. 


In effect, this study will model how much additional nutrients and other pollutants could be released into a local lake, like the Upper Rideau, and still meet provincial environmental guidelines.  (A copy of the RFP can be found here.) 


This “assimilative capacity study” will take at least several months to complete.  The results will be used by Village staff and others to determine what technology would be required to meet the effluent targets, and how much this technology would cost to build, operate and maintain.

 

The Village Council is also asking staff to examine options for securing land to support a new subsurface wastewater disposal system.  Council has not granted additional funds for this purpose.

 

The Village staff accompanied by Council held a public information session last November 29th, where concerns and options were discussed.  Unfortunately, the late fall timing of this meeting meant that many seasonal lakefront residents were not able to attend, and many concerns expressed were not recorded (as is required by the Ontario government). 


For these reasons, among others, we would urge that an additional public meeting be held on the three basic sewage wastewater choices before any decisions are taken.

 

Our volunteer Board has discussed several times the potential Village Council decision to flow treated sewage effluent into the Upper Rideau. 


Concerns expressed at our Board include the following:


Nutrients and water quality

How would any new “surface water discharge” plant avoid increasing the nutrient levels (particularly phosphorus) in our lake?  Increased nutrients mean more algae and more aquatic weeds, and potentially more dangerous blue-green algae blooms.


Risk tolerance and lake health 

Would Westport Council be willing to trade off adverse health impacts to the Upper Rideau to support perceived benefits of development?  Risks to the lake (deteriorating water quality, chemical dangers to human health, etc.), while clearly affecting the Village, would also be borne by lake users and residents outside Westport and, to a lesser extent, in downstream lakes.


Faulty scientific assumptions? 

Climate change is already changing the chemistry of all lakes.  The ice on our lake melted in March!


How can an engineering study in 2024 -- looking at the “assimilative capacity” of local lakes -- successfully model the chemistry (and “safe” effluent criteria) for our lake decades into an even warmer future?  We already know that as a result of climate change, dangerous algae blooms are more frequent, even as nutrients are declining.


Past Village oversight and human error. 

In 2014 Westport pled guilty and was fined $10,000 for operating a sewage treatment plant (“Snofluent”) without adhering to conditions set by the Ministry of the Environment. 


Could this happen again with a new plant?  If not, why not?


Operational risks

All wastewater treatment plants discharging into Ontario lakes and rivers carry risks to water quality. 


“By-passes” – where partially-treated sewage is deliberately released into the water without proper treatments (e.g., following a major rainstorm) -- occur in towns large and small. 


Could a sewage by-pass into the Upper Rideau occur (again)?


Risks to human health and drinking water. 

Some residents on the Upper Rideau use the lake for drinking water (after UV filtering).  Would a new water treatment facility in Westport strip out “forever chemicals”, antibiotics, and microplastics? 


These forever chemicals are dangerous to human and environmental health (see information below.)


The Risks to Human Health from “Forever Chemicals” in Drinking Water


In April 2024, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will require American municipal water systems to remove six synthetic chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems that are present in the tap water of hundreds of millions of Americans.



The extraordinary policy mandates that water providers reduce perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, to near-zero levels. The compounds, found in everything from dental floss to firefighting foams to children’s toys, and hundreds of other household items, are called “forever chemicals” because they never fully degrade and can accumulate in the body and the environment.


Exposure to PFAS, even in very small amounts, has been associated with metabolic disorders, decreased fertility in women, developmental delays in children and increased risk of cancers, according to the EPA.  (Source:  New York Times, April 10, 2024)

 

URLA Comment

We do not believe that these dangerous chemicals in drinking water are regulated—yet—in Canada. Nor do we believe that conventional treatment technologies remove the “forever chemicals” from sewage effluent. 


So any decision to put treated Westport sewage effluent into our lake would almost certainly increase the risks to those Upper Rideau residents using filtered lake water for drinking, not to mention aquatic ecosytems.



Protecting lake water quality


Our Lake Association is committed to helping to improve the water quality of the Upper Rideau Lake.  We will not support any decision by Westport Council on a wastewater facility which would lead to a deterioration of the health and water quality of the Upper Rideau.

 

As always, thank you, and comments and suggestions are most welcome.





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This is an important issue that will affect the lake for generations to come.

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For the benefit of Westport residents and all Upper Rideau Lake Owner/residents, discharging Waste Water effluent into the lake CANNOT be allowed to happen. Can lake residents contribute financially to an acceptable solution for Westport?

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