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Great Lakes Article:

Peel rates high on sewage report card
By Peter Criscione
The Brampton Guardian
Published December 6, 2006

Only one municipality managed to rank higher than the Region of Peel in a study that slams Great Lake cities for their handling of sewage.

The region scored a mark of B in an assessment of 20 Canadian and U.S. urban centres just released by Sierra Legal, a leading environmentalist group.

Green Bay, Wisc., achieved the highest grade with a B+, followed by Peel Region and Duluth, Minn., who both got a B.

Detroit and Windsor finished at the bottom of the list garnering a D and D+, respectively.

The results of the Great Lake Sewage Report Card are appalling overall, the group said.

"The Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater ecosystems on the planet," said Elaine MacDonald, the report's author. "Yet the 20 cities we evaluated are dumping the equivalent of more than 100 swimming pools full of raw sewage directly into the Great Lakes every single day."

Calling it the first-ever ecosystem-based analysis of municipal sewage treatment and sewage discharge in the Great Lakes basin, Sierra Legal said the report grades cities on collection, treatment and disposal of sewage. The grades are determined by information provided by each municipality.

Green Bay, Peel and Duluth are at the top of the list because they "all generally have more sophisticated treatment processes and permit very little sewage to sewer overflows, spills or bypasses," the group declared.

Mark Schiller, Peel's director of water and wastewater, said the region is doing it's best to control sewage-- although there is definitely room for improvement.

"The primary thing for us now would be to control some of our storm water flows that sometimes get into our wastewater system," Schiller told The Guardian. "But, outside of that, we've had a proactive approach in putting in the best available technologies and making sure that our system was up-to-grade most of the time. We have also been proactive in dealing with old infrastructure and its replacement.

"A B grade from Sierra Legal is still a pretty good grade."

For municipalities at the bottom of the list, problems with sewage control are related to combined sewers-- antiquated systems that combine storm water and sanitary sewers into a single pipe.

In some circumstances, filthy water floods through the system and into open water during rainstorms.

The report estimates that the 20 cities, home to about one-third of the 35 million people living around the Great Lakes basin, dump more than 90 billion litres of untreated sewage into the lakes each year.

"Waters surrounding urban areas throughout the Great Lakes are still commonly unsafe for recreational use and many parts of the vast freshwater ecosystem is in peril," the report said.

In addition to grading municipalities, the 57-page report provides an analysis of laws and policies with regards to sewage treatment and offers several recommendations.

Water conservation, wastewater reuse and reclamation, improved infrastructure funding and law reform are some of the recommendations forwarded by MacDonald.

"Although it would be easy to point the finger at municipalities, the Great Lakes basin is a political quagmire that includes two countries, eight states, a province, dozens of tribes and First Nations and hundreds of local municipal and regional governments," MacDonald continued. "The only way out of this mess is to have all levels of government making a renewed commitment to upgrade our aging sewage system and conserve our precious freshwater resources."

Other Canadian cities mentioned in the report are: Thunder Bay (rated B-), London, Sault Ste. Marie and the Niagara Region (rated C+) and Hamilton, Sarnia, Kingston, Sudbury and Toronto (rated C).

Most of the data in the report is based on information that is two years old, and many cities, including Windsor and Toronto, have since taken steps to improve their situation.

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