New Canadian Government Green-lights Dumping 2 Billion Gallons Of Untreated Sewage Into St. Lawrence River

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL — Canada’s new environment minister on Monday approved Montreal’s plan to discharge 8 billion liters (2.1 billion gallons) of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River.

Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said from Paris that she’s asking the city to implement several measures before dumping the waste water such as monitoring the discharge and to improve emergency clean-up plans.

The discharge can begin as soon as the conditions are met and must be completed by Dec. 5. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has said the dump is necessary because the city must temporarily close a large sewer that feeds sewage to a treatment facility. The discharge plan was suspended by the previous Conservative government during the election campaign.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, had asked U.S. environmental regulators to work with Canada to stop the discharge. The EPA said it has no regulatory authority in Canada.

The St. Lawrence River flows from Lake Ontario northeast into the Gulf of Lawrence and borders the U.S. for 114 miles (183 kilometers) in New York state, but the river lies entirely in Canada downstream of Montreal.

Schumer had said the river should be treated like a single ecosystem, because fish and birds move upstream and downstream as do recreational and fishing boats. He noted that the U.S. and Canada have worked together in the past to protect the region’s waters in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Montreal had planned to start dumping the wastewater last month, with officials saying it was necessary so that workers can relocate a snow chute, or large opening that brings water from melting snow to a wastewater treatment plant.

A citizen petition with 90,000 names opposed to the project was presented to Coderre last month. The environmental group Save the River had argued there must be a way for the city to dispose of its sewage that’s not potentially harmful to human health and wildlife.

“We have added conditions,” McKenna said. “The situation is less than ideal. I’m not thrilled to be in this situation.”

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