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Standing up for our river

SUPPORTING THE OTTAWA RIVER ACTION PLAN

Draft for Comment

ecologyottawa.ca

The Ottawa River Action Plan: Campaign Overview


The Landscape
Ottawa is dened by its water courses, and especially by the big river that forms its northern border. Down at street level, asphalt corridors like the Queensway, Riverside Drive, St. Laurent Boulevard and Walkley Road often seem to determine the ow of things . But if we get just a bit above all that concrete and congestion, climb the Peace Tower and look down, hike the escarpment in Gatineau Park and look south our eyes and minds, reorient themselves. Suddenly, Ottawa becomes what we really are: citizens of one of the great rivers of the world. Unfortunately, the Ottawa is also a river that very much needs our help.

OTTAWA RIVER WATERSHED From Natural Resources Canada - www.nrcan.gc.ca

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

Why the River Needs Our Support Flowing for 1271 kilometres, from Lake Capimitchigama in the Laurentians to the St. Lawrence at Montreal, the Ottawa is the second largest river in Eastern Canada. Providing precious habitat for endangered species like the Spotted Turtle, the Least Bittern and American Ginseng, along with hundreds of other avian, aquatic, and terrestrial species, the Ottawa River is no less precious for the human beings who live near its shores. For thousands of years, people have depended on the Ottawa for transportation, food, and recreation. So it is that the Algonquin have long identied themselves as the Kichi sipi anishnaabeg or big river people.

The critical role of the river in nurturing successful habitation along its shores has not lessened with time. But for residents of Ottawa who do not live within sight of its waters, it can be easy to forget our dependence on the river. When we turn on the tap, it is water from the Ottawa that lls our cups and ows into our homes.

Every day, the City of Ottawa draws more than 300 million litres of water from the river at the Britannia and Lemieux Island water purication plants, thats more than 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. While its no surprise to hear that the water from the Ottawa must be rigorously puried before it arrives at our taps, its worth detailing the specic reason that our beautiful rivers water needs this treatment. !! Nine pulp and paper mills that process timber along its shores release over 150,000 tonnes of wastewater

annually (the weight of the cruise ship Queen Mary II). This wastewater contains heavy metals, carcinogens and other toxins. !! !! The Chalk River Nuclear Facility releases radioactive waste water. Ottawa homes, businesses, and city streets generate waste water containing household, commercial, and

industrial chemicals, pesticides, and raw sewage. Some of this runs untreated into the municipal water system.

Not surprisingly, Health Canada advises children and pregnant women against eating most sh species in the Ottawa River watershed, which includes all streams and rivers that ultimately ow into the Ottawa River.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

Pulp mill efuent and radioactive waste are problems whose solutions extend beyond the citys jurisdiction. But the local waste water system is the City of Ottawas responsibility. Fifty years ago, all sewage and other forms of waste water were discharged into the Ottawa River untreated. Today, thanks to over $1 billion in upgrades, the situation has improved substantially. But much remains to be done: every time it rains even moderately, untreated sewage and storm water still end up owing into the Ottawa . This is one of the most pressing issues facing the health of our river, and, ultimately, all those who rely on the river.

These discharges of sewage and waste water are known as Combined Sewer Overow, or CSO, and they pose grave risks to the health of our river. These include: !! !! !! !! depleting its waters of oxygen (municipal waste water is the main source of oxygen depleting substances), increasing pollutants like carcinogens and heavy metals that accumulate in the river bed, choking its tributaries with sediment and debris, and leaving predator residents like the bald eagle who eat the river sh with lethally high concentrations of

chemicals in its muscle tissues . Untreated waste water also contains a mother lode of bacteria. So the most tangible way that many of us experience the effects of Combined Sewer Overow is the beach closures that frequently follow heavy summer rains, due to high counts of fecal bacteria such as E. coli. Such contamination has multiple origins, including human waste and also that of the numerous geese in our parks and along our paths, and of our pets throughout the city.

Combined Sewer Overow Explained While most of Ottawa now enjoys separate pipes for sewage and for storm water, a single-pipe system (designed to carry both sewage and storm water) still lies beneath a signicant portion of the downtown, a relic from the time when there were no waste treatment plants and discharge was direct into the river. Thankfully, the nasty contents of these dual-use pipes are now usually routed to the citys water treatment plants.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

Until, that is, it starts to rain. A rainfall of 2.5 millimetres/hour or more, which is a fairly moderate rate that occurs often in Ottawa, means that the volume of liquid suddenly gushing through these combined pipes becomes more than the waste water system can handle. In response, the systems overow valves open and dump untreated municipal waste water " that is, raw sewage and polluted storm water " directly into the Ottawa River.

In 2011, the City of Ottawa discharged 545 million litres (or 545,000 m3) of combined wastewater/untreated sewage from its vintage combined pipes according to the 2012 Regulatory Compliance Report to the City. <http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/ec/2012/06-19/05-Document%201%20-%20Regulatory%20Compli ance%20Report%5B1%5D.pdf>. Cleaning Up Our River: The Combined Sewer Overow Tunnels In an ideal world, all of the citys combined sewer / storm water pipes would be separated. Unfortunately, for a 675 hectare area of the downtown, conversion to a two pipe system in the near future would be both difcult and very costly. So single pipes are likely to remain part of Ottawas water system for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, technologies exist that could reduce the unfortunate effects of CSO. Chief among these are Combined Sewer Overow Tunnels.

This approach would see Ottawa build two storage tunnels that would temporarily hold surplus water ows during wet weather, thereby preventing the overows from reaching the Ottawa River. Endorsed by city staff , local environmental activist, a number of community associations and the Ottawa Riverkeeper, a grassroots charity formed to protect the health of the Ottawa River, these tunnels would reduce overows from an annual average of thirty (30) per year to one (1) per year, with signicant reductions in the number of beach closures; capture greater volumes from the more frequent and severe storms predicted to occur as a result of climate change; and, allow for treatment of a great volume of urban stormwater " another major pollutant source, according to the ofcial plan.

So while the problem of CSO is signicant, the solution is clear and implementable.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

NB. Solid areas indicate where the plan is to separate sewers within a 187 hectare area comprising a number of streets throughout the core. The stippled area indicates where storage is required to accommodate storm flows generated within a 675 hectare area that would continue to use combined water pipes.

The Situation to date: Making progress, but still short of funding Unfortunately, obstacles to installing the CSO tunnels remain. The most important is the federal and provincial governments failure to make good on its pledge to provide its share of nancial support for Ottawas sewer system upgrade.

The CSO tunnel project is a critical component of the City of Ottawas Ottawa River Action Plan. Drafted in 2009, this Plan (known as ORAP) consists of 17 individual projects designed to restore and protect the health of our river for future generations. A series of public consultations contributed to the nal articulation of the Ottawa River Action Plan, including four open houses in late 2009, a dedicated web page and an online questionnaire.

In February 2010, the Planning and Environment Committee of the City of Ottawa recommended that city council approve the Ottawa River Action Plan at a total projected cost of $251.64 million. Central to successful completion of the plan would be a cost-sharing arrangement between three levels of government: municipal, provincial, and federal. By the summer of 2011, with good faith being shown by all parties, $100 million had been collectively invested

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

and the rst phase of the plan "which focuses on reducing CSO overow problems " was well underway. (An update to City Council on the progress of the plan dated September 13, 2011 found all projects [. . .] moving forward [with] the majority [. . .] on-schedule.) Further details can be found at <http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/occ/2011/09-28/ec/02-ORAP%20Report%20-%20ACS2011-ICS-ES D-0032_EN%5B1%5D.htm>

At time of writing, however, funding arrangements for the critical nal third of the project, the Combined Sewer Overow Tunnels, remain uncertain.

The Federal Perspective: Making Tradeoffs Between Water and Transit In a letter dated July 12, 2011, Mayor Jim Watson urged Minister John Baird to follow through on his governments earlier pledge for funding to allow Ottawa to fully implement its Ottawa River action plan. Mayor Watson reminded Minister Baird that at the time the initial funding arrangement was announced, Minister Baird was explicit about how important this le was to [him] personally and to the federal government.

In his reply to the mayor, Minister Baird noted that in addition to a $33 million federal investment in ORAP that had already been delivered, the federal government had also provided the City of Ottawa with $600 million for transit, on the understanding that transit was Ottawas top priority.

Leading up to the spring 2012 federal budget, many individuals and local organizations urged the federal government to full its promise to help fund the Ottawa River Action Plan. Ecology Ottawa helped bring the issue into the spot light, both through a letter-writing campaign and a tongue-in-cheek Cut the Crap publicity effort. Unfortunately, the 2012 budget did not provide the funding Ottawa needs for ORAP.

More recently, a spokesman with Minister Bairds ofce indicated that the federal government would be open to allowing the City to redirect some of the transit budget to the Ottawa River Action Plan, should the city now be identifying that as its priority.

In media interviews this August, Minister Baird stated his personal support for the CSO project in very clear terms: when you think of the environment, one of the most important treasures we have is the Ottawa River and the whole notion that we'd be dumping what is essentially raw sewage into this historic waterway certainly doesn't sit well with me and with most of the people in the city. As a result, Minister Baird said that [w]hen we look at the next round of federal infrastructure projects (in 2014), support for Ottawa River will be a real priority.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

The Provincial Perspective: Support, But no Specics Similarly, the provincial government, and Members of Provincial Parliament in the Ottawa area, has also stated its commitment to the Ottawa River Action Plan. But with competing infrastructure demands and budgets being cut, the provincial government has not provided any clarity about when its share of the funding will be delivered.

Beyond the CSO tunnels: Phase II, III, and IV of the Ottawa River Action Plan Once the funding is secured, the installation of the CSO tunnels would conclude the rst phase of the Ottawa River Action Plan. Completing this project would make Ottawa a world leader in Combined Sewer Overow reduction. With far fewer beach closures, and a generally healthier aquatic system, this achievement alone would be cause for celebration and civic pride. But the effort to restore and protect the health of the Ottawa River and its watershed will only have begun.

The action plan also includes three further phases: the reduction of stormwater impacts, the improvement of wastewater treatment, and the development of a long term Water Environment Strategy . Additional information on the other phases of the project can be found at the Citys website: <ottawa.ca/en/env_water/tlg/alw/brs/orap/index.html>

As a national capital, Ottawa should show itself a world leader in supporting our citys waterways. That starts with controlling our combined sewer overow problems, but it doesnt stop there. Ecology Ottawa recommends addition long term solutions that could be implemented: 1. Green Roofs Ottawa needs a green roofs bylaw, like the one Toronto has implemented. It would require these roofs to be partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproof membrane on all new building development. Green roofs absorb rain water, and have the added bonus of being useful for growing food and providing habitat for ecologically and imperative but embattled bees. They also create a layer of insulation that keeps the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. 2. Soaking up Rainfall The city should create more permeable surfaces such as roads and sidewalks. These surfaces would absorb rainwater instead of letting it stream off into the sewer system. When the citys upgrading a sidewalk or road, instead of creating a at surface thats totally impermeable they could begin to add permeable surfaces. In addition they should be creating green spaces along roadways or sidewalks that hold water.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

3. Natural Filters The creation of wetlands near where the current overow releases into the river (and there are 18 sites where this generally occurs) would allow the water to be ltered and cleaned naturally.

The City of Ottawa and its citizens must actively promote and assist in the long-term well-being of the river which underpins our citys very existence. We will never stop needing the Ottawa river. Now and in the years to come, its clear that the river also needs us. Because water is life.

Taking Action Ecology Ottawa is currently spearheading a city-wide petition drive, with the goal of collecting at least 10,000 signatures by October 2012 . At the time of writing Ecology Ottawa has hit the 6000 mark collected from neighbourhoods across the City.

If you havent signed the petition to keep pressure on our federal representatives and our provincial representatives, go to ecologyottawa.ca and click take action. If you would like to be more involved in collecting signatures in your neighbourhood, contact Ecology Ottawa at 613-860-5353 or visit the volunteer section on the website.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

Best Practices: Ottawas Peers Showing Leadership In Washington, D.C., many city planners, green builders, local community associations, environmental activists and government all levels are working together to implement their citys plan to restore the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and their watersheds. Judging from the website for Washingtons Clean Rivers Project: Restoring Our Rivers. Protecting Our District, all parties involved are fully committed to completing this important project. Greening the District projects abound, and there is even a competition underway in which local schools complete to Name the Tunnel Boring Machine! (That is, the machine that will begin putting Washingtons CSO storage tunnels into the ground by next spring.) Prominent on the Clean Rivers Project website is the sentence water is life.

Atlanta, Georgia began addressing its own CSO problems 20 years ago by building facilities to treat overows. In 1995, the city was sued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Georgia Environmental Protection Department and the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (among others), who claimed that the facilities did not prevent violations of water quality standards. In 1998, the City signed a court-ordered Consent Decree agreeing to eliminate CSO water quality violations by November 2007. The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and its allies have won various landmark legal and regulatory victories, exemplied by the City of Atlanta case, their work has helped shape clean water policy throughout Georgia, the region and the USA. Today, Atlanta is pursuing multi-phase plan to separate a minimum of 27% of the combined sewer system. Meeting this minimum will increase the citys total separated area from 85% to almost 90%.

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Ottawa River Action Plan Overview

PRESS RELEASE Community Associations, Ecology Ottawa ask Ottawa-area MPs to Cut the Crap, Fund the Plan! Environmental organization says it is not fair to ask the city to choose between public transit and clean water March 7, 2012(Ottawa) At a press conference this morning at Britannia Beach, Ecology Ottawa and Community Associations called on the federal government to help the nations capital clean up its rivers, and asked that it stop calling on the city to choose between public transit and clean water. Were glad the federal government is supportive of making the Ottawa River Action Plan a priority in 2014, but the feds are planning to spend billions of dollars on jets, jails and oil subsidies, so we dont think they should be asking the people of Ottawa to choose between light rail and clean water, said Graham Saul, chair of Ecology Ottawa. Minister Baird has called this a moral issue, so now is the time to act. To illustrate the fact that Ottawa dumps hundreds of millions of litres of untreated sewage into the river, a male model sat on a toilet bowl in Britannia Beach, with his pants around his knees during the press conference. Ecology Ottawa has collected 750 signatures on a letter to all Ottawa-area Members of Parliament (MPs) urging them to ght to ensure funding for the Ottawa River Action Plan is included in the federal 2012 budget. During a press conference this morning at Britannia Beach, Saul said he was dissatised with the response to the funding request received from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Pierre Poilievre, M.P. Nepean-Carleton, stated that: The cleanup of the Ottawa River remains the federal government priority now and for 2014. We wished the city shared that priority. The basic argument from the federal government that if the City is serious about the Ottawa River Action Plan it can just use money from federal transit funding is unfair, Saul said. Saul was joined at the press conference by representatives from two Community Associations (Riverview Park and Westboro Beach) upset with beach closures and untreated sewage in our waterways. These representatives also expressed dissatisfaction in the response received from the federal government so far. We are asking the federal government to do what is right and fund the Ottawa River Action Plan in Budget 2012, said Mari Wellman, chair of the Westboro Beach Community Association. - 30 -

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