By Jeffrey Carter
SPECIAL to Ontario Farmer
Government has hefted an inordinate amount of the
burden for nutrient management onto the shoulders of farmers, says
the water campaigner with the Sierra Club of Canada.
At the same time. little has been done to improve the way
Ontario's municipalities handle their wastes.
Maureen Reilly says regulations under the Nutrient Management Act
have even increased the amount of sewage sludge municipalities are
allowed to spread by nearly three times ---from eight to 22 tonnes
The idea is to calculate, on paper,
long-term averages so that the buildup of heavy metals can be
However, Reilly believes the approach is
unsustainable in the long run. In addition, there doesn't seem to
be much in the way of forward thinking when it comes to the levels
of nitrogen and phosphorus being applied in these materials, she
"While farmers are being asked to complete these
massive plans, no one (at the Ministry of Environment) could
tell me how much nitrogen
and phosphorus is in the sewage sludge," Reilly says. "It
appears to be a piece of legislation that is cumbersome and
onerous on the farmers but is very permissive for the sewage
One reason behind the tonnage rate
increase for sewage sludge may be growing concerns with the
agricultural community about material, Reilly says.
In other words, there are fewer farmers willing to take the
stuff and so more of it needs to be spread on a smaller land
The government focus on farmers seems to
be connected with the
Walkerton disaster, Reilly suggests. The disaster occurred after a
virulent strain of E. coli contaminated the community's water
"My thinking was that the province,
especially the last regime, wanted to focus the mind of the public
..on the farmer and one individual," Reilly says.
The Municipality of Brockton, which includes Walkerton, was
ordered by the Ministry of Environment to fund a report on all
probable causes of the disaster, Reilly says. Possibilities
related to agriculture were considered but there was no effort to
look at sewage sludge or septic waste --- and the MOE didn't
insist on it.
This lax attitude toward municipal
waste continues today, even when problems arise, Reilly says.
Governments had done little to address the spills and discharge of
untreated and under-treated waste from municipal sewage plants.
"If the province (was) really interested to protect water quality,
they would ...bring them (the treatment plants) into line."