Where does the poop go, Ontario?

In our latest newsletter, reporter Fatima Syed talks about what could clog up Ontario’s Great Lakes — and international relations — as the pressure to address the province’s housing crisis piles up

The Narwhal's masthead logo
Lake Ontario in the winter
“There comes a time in every climate reporter’s life when you’ve gone through the studies, the development plans, the regulations … eventually you’ll hit a pile of crap.” 

That’s what reporter Fatima Syed said, referring to her latest story that follows an undiscussed thread of the Ford government’s plans for building more housing in southern Ontario — the fate of the sewage that would flow from those homes.

“In York Region, the population is set to double by 2051. That means moving tens of millions of litres of more water from the Lake Huron watershed every day,” Fatima told me.

Where would that wastewater go, exactly? The answer to that question has been a pressure point for 14 years. After over a decade of debating whether to build a new treatment facility, the province finally decided last fall to move more water down south to an existing treatment plant on Lake Ontario instead. To do so, it’s eyeing the protected Oak Ridges Moraine, through which it wants to expand a network of pipelines.

Moving water from one Great Lake watershed is known as an intra-basin transfer, and it’s a big deal. For Lake Huron — and Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe, which flow from it — it means a loss of water, at a time when levels are already often low. For Lake Ontario, it means absorbing more wastewater: treated wastewater, yes, but the water body is also coping with an unprecedented number of sewage spills, and facing other environmental pressures.
Then there’s the issue of the journey itself, which our art director Shawn Parkinson visualized in a 100 per cent accurate way.
Animated illustration of sewage from the York region being treated and emptying into Lake Ontario.
“One leak in a pipe, and there’s poop in your drinking water!” Fatima said jokingly. “Well, not exactly, but the chemicals that treat sewage could put a strain on the drinking water for the region — and we don’t want that to happen.”

And it’s not just a question of sewage or its possible impacts on Ontario’s environment.

It’s also about an international agreement signed in 2005 by Ontario, Quebec and eight U.S. states which explicitly bans the movement of water from one Great Lake basin to another.

At the heart of the agreement is the health of the Great Lakes — one of the most unique water ecosystems on the globe, they hold 85 per cent of North America’s surface freshwater. Great Lakes experts told Fatima they worry Ontario’s decision will lead other signatories to wonder why they should honour the agreement when the whole region is facing intense development pressures. 

“The consequences could be so dire, with two watersheds in the Great Lakes and a protected area, we have to start thinking about it now,” Fatima said.

“If the Ford government wants to put shovels in the ground as quickly as it’s indicating … we have to start planning properly for our poop.” 

Take care and don’t be a party pooper,

Karan Saxena
Audience fellow
Editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist sporting a Narwhal toque, sweater, magazine and tote bag

If I had one wish ...

We’re about to launch our Narwhal ambassador program, which allows our readers to win sweet swag for sharing The Narwhal with friends. We have one burning question for you: what Narwhal swag would you be most interested in winning?

1. Toque

2. Embroidered patch
3. Sweater
4. Stickers
5. T-shirt
6. Tote bag

This week in The Narwhal

a juvenile chum salmon with sea lice
‘Serious scientific failings’: experts slam DFO report downplaying threat of salmon farms
By Ainslie Cruickshank
A Fisheries and Oceans Canada study found no significant link between sea lice at B.C. salmon farms and on wild salmon, prompting scientists to express ‘professional dismay.’

Pixelated illustration of a lone tree
B.C.’s War in the Woods is entering a new phase. Will it be the last?
By Arno Kopecky
Illustration of Ottawa's Greenbelt
Ottawa’s Greenbelt is federally owned but not federally protected
By Joy SpearChief-Morris
Photo of Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault
Federal government could intervene on Greenbelt development, Guilbeault warns Ontario
By Emma McIntosh

What we’re reading

The Guardian: A swim with orcas: top ice diver joins Arctic predators – in pictures
The Globe and Mail: As tornadoes in Canada get more destructive, momentum builds for new building codes to save homes
It’s our doodie at The Narwhal to tell you stories that impact the natural world — even if they stink. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter and get to the bottom of it all!
The Narwhal's logo
View this e-mail in your browser

Sign up for this newsletter

You are on this list because you signed up to receive The Narwhal’s newsletter.  
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.


Copyright © *|CURRENT_YEAR|* The Narwhal, all rights reserved.

How the Ontario government muzzled its Greenbelt Council

Over the past two years, the Ontario government moved to muzzle the council that advises it about the Greenbelt as it shuffled its work behind...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Our members make The Narwhal’s ad-free, independent journalism possible. Will you join the pod?
Help power our ad-free, independent journalism
We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts
The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism.
We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts
The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism.