Don’t rush septic into Gatineau River

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by admin on March 10, 2010

The Editor,

Anyone who lives along the Gatineau River in Wakefield, Cantley and Chelsea, Quebec or who likes to swim, fish or paddle the river, owes a big thank-you to the group of people who succeeded in getting La Peche Council and the MRC des Collines to change the terms of reference for a study on the proposed regional septic waste treatment plant.

The Ottawa Citizen had an article Feb. 20 on this issue, and some facts emerged there which showed the sheer scale of what is involved.

The article stated that both the Pontiac and des Collines MRCs were affected by Gatineau’s decision to cease accepting our septic waste in December 2010, which comes from 45,000 houses in total. How many of these houses are from Des Collines itself was not specified, but we have to talking about the 10,000 to 20,000 range.

Putting treated human waste from that many houses into one spot in the Gatineau River would be equivalent to all the sewage from a town 10 to 20 times the present size of Wakefield. Could the river assimilate and dilute that much organic load and chlorine reliably and without environmental impact, especially during drought years? Given that the two original sites were only a few kilometres upstream from Wakefield (the Echo Dale location) or Chelsea (the Beausoleil Hardware location), this question deserves a carefully study.

Although the waste is treated to some degree, in Quebec this is usually only at what is called the “primary” (lowest) level of treatment. This assumes that more breakdown of the remaining organics can happen in the river after discharge, and that flows are high enough year-round to quickly dilute the chlorine used for disinfection.

One question I have is, if both regions are in the same situation, does it make any financial sense for reasons of economy of scale to build one large plant in the Pontiac to take both regions’ waste?  It might make sense environmentally.

The Pontiac borders on the Ottawa River, which is much larger than the Gatineau and already receives treated sewage from many communities including Ottawa and Gatineau. On the face of it, our extra “donation” would make relatively difference there.  But it could make a heck of a big difference to our enjoyment of the Gatineau River if it ended up here. Hopefully, the MRC des Collines and Pontiac talk to each other, and this possibility can be studied.

For sure, we have to do something with our waste, but now we have a fairer process, and time for clearer thinking.  The Citizen article also quoted a City of Ottawa engineer who said that its treatment plant could take our waste temporarily, after the December 2010 deadline, so we have time to avoid mistakes. Any solution we choose will be with us forever.

Peter Outridge

Farrellton, Quebec