Quebecers are releasing a shocking amount of sewage into their rivers, says a new report issued by Fondation Rivières. The three-year study, published Monday, reveals that seven out of 10 municipalities still contaminate Quebec rivers through the chronic discharge of wastewater from antiquated water treatment systems. The Fondation told MTL Blog that this sewage can include human waste, runoff, street drainage, and litter like plastic, cigarettes, and food waste.

The report looked at the water treatment systems of 130 municipalities in Quebec, or about 15% of the province’s total. 

It focused on the communities near the Richelieu, Bécancour, Châteauguay, L’Assomption, and Missisquoi Bay rivers, which are home to about 1.5 million people.

It found these cities and towns discharged wastewater into their rivers 53,645 times in 2018, resulting in the release of more than 21 million cubic metres of untreated wastewater into the environment, which is quite the amount.

How much is 21 million cubic metres of untreated sewage? Well, it’s equivalent to about 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools or, according to the report, almost three times the amount of sewage dumped during the infamous “flushgate” incident of 2015, when the city of Montreal released almost five billion litres of untreated wastewater into the St. Lawrence River.

The report blames municipalities and the provincial government for the ongoing situation.

It says about a third of municipal sanitation systems are operating above capacity and that they lack the know-how and support necessary to find solutions.

In addition, the province’s standards for discharging contaminants do not account for the environment’s ability to tolerate pollution over time.

Since 2014, Quebec municipalities have been waiting to receive new standards that would establish the maximum number of overflows that can be tolerated by watersheds, the foundation said.

The foundation notes that offending municipalities have "nothing to fear" from the provincial government, which "has issued only 23 sanctions since 2014, including 18 for failure to comply with administrative deadlines for the transmission of mandatory information." 

It also criticized the provincial government for subsidizing wastewater infrastructure without taking pollution into account.

The report concludes with a call to action so that Quebecers need not stay flushed with shame.

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