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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Massive sewage pipe called threat to water

Massive sewage pipe called threat to water

CANADIAN PRESS

Drinking water for millions of people could be poisoned and some of the most sensitive ecology in southern Ontario damaged if part of a 100-kilometre sewer system between Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario is built, critics said today.

But proponents called that fearmongering, saying much of the system has long been in place and the project, involving only a small part of the system, is perfectly safe.

As much as 750 million litres of sewage a day would flow from Holland Landing for treatment in Pickering by way of the so-called Big Pipe, which is up to three metres in diameter and buried as deep as 45 metres.

"They're putting a human sewage sewer full of crap and E. coli right in the middle of the inter-regional drinking-water aquifer," said Jim Robb, general manager of the Friends of the Rouge Watershed.

"It's a really stupid plan."

Laying the pipe requires the removal of large amounts of groundwater from the ecologically sensitive Oak Ridges moraine.

Critics said about 30 billion litres of groundwater has already been drained, with a similar amount expected to be taken over the next two years — one of the largest water-takings in Canadian history.

Water levels in the aquifer have fallen about 45 metres in Markham, more than 120 wells have run dry, and streams are drying up, said Robb.

Critics also worry the pipe will drive decades of urban sprawl across a sensitive swath of undeveloped land.

Opponents, including federal NDP Leader Jack Layton and some area Liberal MPs, argue a proper environmental assessment was never done and both the provincial and federal governments dropped the ball.

Bruce MacGregor, York Region's works commissioner, said the fuss is about nine kilometres of proposed pipe and accused opponents of putting out misleading information.

"They're an anti-growth group — they're upset about our urban communities growing at all," said MacGregor.

"The benefits of these types of projects by far outweigh any temporary impacts."

While Robb and others pressed a Toronto committee today to join the fight against the pipe, York Regional chairman Bill Fisch said the project "posed no threat" to drinking water.

If the line were to break, water would leak in, not sewage out, he said.

In addition, wells that have run dry returned to normal after construction, he said.

John Wilkinson, parliamentary assistant to provincial Environment Minister Laurel Broten, said this week that growth in York region was straining its sewage system, "perhaps putting lives at risk."

But Ontario New Democrat Marilyn Churley accused the provincial government of hypocrisy.

The project is in direct conflict with Liberal promises to protect water sources in light of the May 2000 tainted-water tragedy that killed seven people in Walkerton, Churley said.

"This is another Walkerton in the making," said Churley.

"Even a very small leak in a pipe carrying several hundred million litres of sewage and E. coli every day would be catastrophic."

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