Water / Eau

Le cas du... caca ! - Réflexions sur les eaux d'égouts non traitées dans le port de Saint-Jean

La cité de Saint-Jean a l'un des plus vieux systèmes d'eaux et d'égouts en Amérique du Nord. Ce système requiert une modernisation évaluée à 216 $ millions. C'est par l'entremise de 55 émissaires d'évacuation que quarante-huit pour cent des milliards de litres d'eaux usées non traitées de la ville sont déchargés directement dans le port de Saint-Jean, Marsh Creek, Dukhman's Creek ou dans la Saint-Jean.

Les implications sociales, économiques et environnementales de cette pratique ont des conséquences importantes pour notre communauté. Le public et ceux intéressés à l'environnement doivent se faire entendre aux niveaux provincial et fédéral. Nous avons besoin d'aide ici à Saint-Jean parce qu'on ne peut pas réussir à nous seuls.




Waste not, want not –
Reflections on untreated sewage
in Saint John Harbour

Gordon Dalzell
Saint John Citizens Coalition for Clean Air
December 2002

ne image that comes to mind when thinking about the contamination of the Saint John Harbour and surrounding watercourses is the visible material washing up along the beaches from the billions of litres of untreated sewage dumped into the Saint John Harbour and St. John River.  This image becomes obvious during the Annual Beach Sweep Cleanup. The City of Saint John has one of the oldest municipal water and sewage systems in North America. It needs a 216 million dollar upgrade. Forty-eight percent of the city’s sewage simply flows untreated through one of the 55 raw sewage outfall pipes directly into the Saint John Harbour, Marsh Creek, Dukhman’s Creek or the St. John River.

(photo: Gordon Dalzell)

It can be difficult to discuss the subject of untreated sewage waste.  There really is no nice way to describe dumping 8.1 billion litres of raw sewage into our waterways. As one volunteer that lends support to try and clean up these associated beaches and surrounding land, I have seen and smelled the disgusting impact this current practice has on the environment. There is no way to minimize the sight of raw sewage flowing out of gigantic pipes and flowing into Marsh Creek or Saint John Harbour. For example, in the hot summer period, this sewage finds its way to the banks of Marsh Creek. Once the tidal flow from Courtenay Bay flushes out the water and other solids, some of this material remains on the banks of Marsh Creek. This leftover material literally “bakes” in the sun, giving off an unforgettable sewage smell equivalent to the contents of thousands of toilet bowels being flushed. The odour, which permeates the surrounding area of Haymarket Square, is nauseating.

ACAP Saint John has been a strong leader in our community in respect to the environmental quality of the Saint John Harbour and its tributaries. This multi-stakeholder community group has launched several important and valuable services to help deal with this problem. One is the Community Environmental Monitoring Program that carefully assesses and monitors water quality in the Greater Saint John area, including Saint John Harbour and its tributaries.

One of the most popular programs is the annual Beach Sweep Cleanup. This provides the public with an opportunity to get involved in actually cleaning up the beaches. This year, four hundred volunteers participated in cleaning up two and half tonnes of debris. Equally popular is the Annual Earth Day project called Marsh Creek Sweep that sees volunteers cleaning up the banks of Marsh Creek. The Drain Painting Program is a public awareness effort which reminds people not to dump their hazardous material down their drains, as it ends up eventually flowing into the Saint John Harbour and surrounding waterways.

While attending a conference several years ago at a local hotel beside the Saint John Harbour, one of the guest presenters from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington mentioned that Saint John needed to do more to clean up the Harbour. The sewage could be viewed out the window, evident by all the green algae surrounding the outfall pipe that emptied into the Saint John Harbour. The social, economic and environmental implications of this practice do have significant consequences for our community.

Sewage outfall into harbour
(photo: Gordon Dalzell)

How bad is this problem? What has been done? What further needs to be done to clean up this problem of dumping this sewage into the Saint John Harbour, St. John River and various creeks?

To be fair, it is important to give the City of Saint John credit for its efforts to treat its sewage.

The City of Saint John developed a Waste Water Strategy in 1993 with an update prepared in year 2000. The goal of this strategy is to clean up and treat all the sewage in 10 years. This City is committed to this plan and has financed existing sewage treatment facilities to handle 50% of the sewage. The challenge now is to come up with the financial resources to treat the remaining fifty percent of the sewage. Compared to Halifax and St. John’s, Newfoundland, who dump all their sewage into their harbours and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, the City of Saint John has at least made an effort to treat 50% of its sewage.

The citizens and users in Saint John will be doing their share by paying for significantly higher water and sewage bills over the next 10 years. The City of Saint John is prepared to pay one third of the cost pending the financial commitments of the Provincial and Federal Governments.

One of the most discouraging aspects of this waste issue is the lack of funding commitments from both the Provincial and Federal Governments. No municipality can be expected to go it alone and handle the massive costs associated with the sewage treatment infrastructure. That is why this community was holding its breath (and nose as well) waiting for the Prime Minister to announce Federal Government funding for the Saint John Harbour Cleanup (similar to what was announced early this Fall for Halifax and St. John’s, Newfoundland). No Federal funding or commitment was announced.

 =======  Marsh Creek outfall  =======
Marsh Creek outfall
(photo: Gordon Dalzell)

This City is actively engaged in Harbour Front Development planning, and it looks like things are beginning to shape up as a competition between funding priorities for Harbour Front Development and/or Saint John Harbour Clean Up.  While visiting Saint John on November 28, the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech that he liked what is being proposed for the Saint John Harbour Front Development, which for many signaled that future Federal funding may be directed in that direction as opposed to Saint John Harbour Clean Up. From an environmental perspective, this would be disappointing to say the least.  

Now where is the Provincial Government on this issue in terms of funding commitments?  The answer is nowhere at this time. There are other spending priorities that have the present attention of the Provincial Government.

Our community cannot do what is needed to clean up this serious sewage waste problem by itself, nor should it be expected to bear the entire financial burden. This City is in a financial budget squeeze and without other levels of government help this practice of dumping raw sewage into the Harbour will continue. This is not acceptable!

The problem of cleaning up the Saint John Harbour is a good example of how the values and priorities of society can impact environmental issues. Choices were made in the past which placed important infrastructure and project funding to different interests--at the expense of cleaning up this untreated sewage going into the Harbour. Other issues and projects won the day, with funding being spent on them.

What will be the funding priorities in the next few years? Will we see the funding priority being given to cleaning up all the remaining sewage or will other projects and developments get first priority? It is important for the public and those concerned about the environment to have their voices heard at the Provincial and Federal levels. We need help here in Saint John because we cannot do it alone.