By Ecology Ottawa
A recent report released by Ecology Ottawa argues that the budget is an opportunity for the federal government to help Ottawa residents clean up the Ottawa River. The report, entitled Cut the Crap and Fund the Plan: 2014 Should be a Breakthrough Year for Ottawa’s Rivers, argues that the federal government is out of excuses when it comes to the $65 million in federal infrastructure funding that the City of Ottawa needs to stop dumping untreated sewage into the river.
“It’s time for the feds to cut the crap and fund the plan,” said Graham Saul, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa. “We know they used $660 million of the new infrastructure funding to support Mayor Ford’s priorities in Toronto, so we think it’s time they follow through on their promise to help the City of Ottawa stop dumping sewage into the river?”
In a letter to Ecology Ottawa in 2012, Minister John Baird stated that he would “ensure that the clean-up of the Ottawa River is the number one project [in the City of Ottawa] for the Federal Government” during the next round of infrastructure funding. In March 2013, the federal government announced a new nationwide 10-year, $53-billion infrastructure program, but funding for the next phase of the Ottawa River Action Plan has still not been announced.
By comparison, in September 2013 the federal government announced that they would contribute $660 million of the new infrastructure funding to support a subway extension in Toronto. When Minister Flaherty made the announcement alongside Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, he was asked why the announcement was being made at that time (before the criteria for the infrastructure funding had been clearly established). Minister Flaherty replied: “Because the mayor wrote to us and asked.”
“Enough is enough. This issue has been dragging on for too long,” said Saul. “We need to put the funding question behind us so that we can focus on new challenges such as improving stormwater management and public transit.”
Every time it rains 2.5 millimetres per hour or more ― which is a fairly moderate rate that occurs often in Ottawa ― the City of Ottawa’s sewage system gets overwhelmed and it starts dumping a mixture of raw sewage and polluted stormwater from one of 18 sewer overflow sites on the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.
In 2013, Ottawa dumped about 225 million litres of untreated sewage into the Ottawa River, down from over 670 million litres in 2010. The City needs $195 million, or about $65 million from each level of government, to build underground tunnels to hold the excess water and prevent the sewage discharge. As outlined in the report, the federal and provincial governments have both indicated that they are supportive of the plan, but funds have not yet been forthcoming.