Sask. proposes halt on spreading domestic sewage

Saskatchewan’s proposed new "results-based" Environmental Code, now up for public review, calls for an eventual clampdown on the spreading of municipalities’ liquid domestic waste on farmland.

The draft code — which overall would require amendments on three pieces of provincial environmental law and passage of a new Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Act — would remove land spreading as an acceptable disposal option five years after the code comes into force.

As per the new "results-based" model, the current system of provincial permits for liquid sewage disposal would be replaced with registrations.

"Proponents would still be allowed to submit innovative approaches as an alternative solution, and some may propose land spreading as an alternative," the province said in a discussion document on the new code.

"However, an environmental protection plan, including studies to prove the safety and rigorous monitoring, would be required for the (provincial environment) ministry to allow this activity. This should greatly reduce or nearly eliminate the land spread volumes."

The ministry noted the number of complaints it receives about land spreading "is rising." Some rural municipalities have already banned the practice, the province said.

Banning land spreading, the province acknowledged, will require affected municipalities and developers to build new lagoons or "other appropriate sewage treatment and disposal works."

About 20 new small lagoons, at an total estimated cost of $14 million to $22 million, would be required with the banning of land spreading. The costs would be at the lower end of the range if more large regional lagoons are built, as opposed to the more expensive alternative, a larger number of smaller lagoons, the province said.

Transferable responsibility

Among other changes proposed in the draft code is a policy allowing Saskatchewan landowners to legally transfer responsibility for an "environmentally impacted" site to a new owner.

The province said it expects such a process to facilitate redevelopment and help ensure the seller and buyer of such land are aware of the impacts at the site, and that financial assurances are in place to remediate it.

The province’s environment minister could then take action, if need be, against the new responsible party. Currently the minister can only take action against a person who causes an adverse effect, regardless of any agreements in place between the person responsible and any future landowners.

"Required outcomes"

The province described its proposed Environmental Code as the first of its kind in Canada, a document that will "provide guidance on the design of environmental systems and facilities."

The "results-based" model for the proposed code "focuses on required environmental outcomes and encourages innovation by making the proponent accountable to find the best way to achieve or exceed the required outcomes."

"I think this approach to regulation can work, provided that there is a commitment by all of us — businesspeople, governments, regulators and citizens — to recognize environmental protection as the top priority," Saskatchewan Environmental Society board member Ann Coxworth said in a provincial release Wednesday.

"The public review period is an important opportunity for people to let us know whether that commitment is there."

The public review is to include meetings on Jan. 30 in Regina, Feb. 2 in Prince Albert and Feb. 3 in Saskatoon.

The opposition NDP is skeptical of the province’s planned self-regulation approach, warning the draft code "gets rid of the requirement for many operations to have provincial permits (and) companies would primarily police themselves."

"Scrapping the need for permits could result in permanent damage to our environment before the government even realizes there is a problem," NDP environment critic Buckley Belanger said in a separate release.

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