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Niagara Falls
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Editorial: NOTL needs to solve its sewer problems
The bridge to Butler's Burial Ground crosses Two Mile Creek, which has the highest levels of E. coli of any creek in the region.

No one really likes to talk about the very human problem of managing society’s sewage waste.

But not only do we have to talk about it, we have to pay for it.

If we don’t have an efficient, properly enclosed disposal system, we can look forward to all sorts of problems down the proverbial road. And a big bill to pay in order to bring things back up to par.

For at least the second time in recent years, Niagara-on-the-Lake is faced with the messy, expensive and unenviable job of cleaning up and retrofitting a sewer system that has developed leaks and problems.

And it is seeping into one of the area’s watercourses – this time it’s Two Mile Creek.

The result is that Two Mile Creek has the highest level of E. coli of any water system in the entire Niagara watershed, according to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. An embarrassing statistic.

The last time NOTL had to publicly deal with such a problem, about four years ago, it was pipes at Simcoe Park disgorging into Lake Ontario.

At that time, as was shown in an investigation by The Lake Report, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake had been quietly dealing with the problem for about two years.

But the old, damaged and deteriorating sewer pipes had been allowing untreated sewage to seep into Lake Ontario at Queen’s Royal Beach for several years.

Are these the only cases of sewer pipe problems in NOTL?

Well, since no one really likes to talk about it until it becomes a major issue, we can’t be sure. But it appears the latest problems have been going on for a good length of time.

That is disconcerting but we are glad the municipality is working to fix it.

Unlike 200 years ago and through much of the Victorian era, when sewer systems were notoriously non-existent or ineffective, we expect that when we flush, the effluent will travel to a multi-million-dollar sewage treatment plant (like the one on Lakeshore Road).

There the water will be treated, cleaned properly and eventually returned to the natural environment.

Actually, that expectation is so ingrained, who really actually thinks about it? No one, until problems occur and effluent ends up where it is not supposed to be.

As Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa frankly notes in a story in this week’s edition, this is all a symptom of a bigger issue towns across Canada have with funding infrastructure.

“This is not a one-year problem. This is not a five-year problem,” Zalepa said. “This is a chronic 30-year underfunding of capital.”

And as we see every year at budget deliberation time, councillors here and everywhere else, are happy to kick capital repairs down the road if it means that tax increases can be limited.

The town probably can’t afford the latest costly repairs – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, potentially. But the reality is, the town cannot afford not to do them.

And legally, morally, environmentally, the town must do them.

The lessons here seem obvious: one, municipalities and our elected leaders have to stop putting off repairs to key infrastructure. And two, we all, as taxpayers, have to understand that we must foot the bill.

Kicking the can down the road is not the answer.

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