Sustainable implementation of Canada’s national wastewater strategy
The “Canada-Wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent” is a programme that aims to harmonize wastewater regulation across Canada and to provide a level of treatment that will protect human health and the environment. In effect, this will entail the installation of secondary treatment, or equivalent, at sites across the country over the next thirty years at a cost in excess of CAD$10 billion. Given that the infrastructure investments that will arise from the programme will be in operation for many decades, it is worthwhile to consider whether the Strategy has been developed with sustainability in mind.
The principal aim of this study was to undertake a critical assessment of the degree to which the principles of sustainability have been integrated into the Strategy, and to provide recommendations for how sustainability might be assured during its implementation.
The first step in the assessment was to describe the background from which the Strategy emerged. This included the current states of wastewater treatment and regulation in Canada, and how these led to the development of the Strategy. The stated objectives of the Strategy were then considered, including the desired outcomes, technical performance standards, and the explicit exclusions and limitations. Finally, the Strategy was placed within a broader context that included global best practices in wastewater management, emerging concepts in sustainability, and similar legislation in other jurisdictions. The insights gained from the review can be analysed to determine how well they might be integrated into the Canadian context. Particular emphasis will be given to how they might fit within the proposed regulatory structure, and to the existence of specific barriers to their implementation.
The published literature described progressive principles of sustainable wastewater management and provided a large number of potential indicators that could be used to assess sustainability. Analysis of other jurisdictions’ regulations also suggested areas where the Strategy’s scope and implementation plan could be improved. In each case, lessons drawn from abroad will need to be adapted to the Canadian political, economic, and geographic context. The initial regulatory steps described in the Strategy do not explicitly require sustainability assessment beyond the environmental realm, but the Strategy’s overarching goals do provide scope for considerable improvement through time.
The next phase of the study will be to prepare a multi-criteria decision making framework for assessing the sustainability of wastewater schemes that might be proposed under the Strategy. This will involve creating a rational methodology for selecting sustainability indicators from those identified earlier in the study, assigning appropriate weighting factors to them, and using the results to maximize the sustainability of wastewater infrastructure.