Municipal water infrastructure program | Quebec finances the repair of sewers even if they flow into waterways

The Legault government is paying billions of dollars in financial aid to Quebec municipalities to help them repair their water and sewer distribution networks, but it is no longer requiring them to correct faulty connections causing wastewater spills in waterways, a problem which had to be resolved in… 2007.

What there is to know

  • Quebec no longer requires municipalities to correct defective sanitary sewer connections in exchange for financial assistance for the repair of their wastewater infrastructure.
  • Even when this condition was required, Quebec did not enforce it, accuses the Rivières Foundation.
  • The government committed in 2002 to correcting faulty sanitary sewer connections before 2007.

Quebec is giving up requiring Quebec municipalities to correct defective sanitary sewer connections in exchange for financial assistance for the repair of their wastewater infrastructure.

The requirement to eliminate “reverse connections”, or the discharge of wastewater from a building into a municipality’s storm sewer rather than its sanitary sewer, has been removed from the new version of the Infrastructure Program municipal water supply (PRIMEAU), launched in April.

“It’s irresponsible!” », exclaims Alain Saladzius, water treatment engineer and president of the Rivières Foundation, who discovered the modification.


Alain Saladzius, president of the Rivières Foundation

Reverse connections, also called cross connections, are a “scourge” that pollutes waterways throughout Quebec by directly sending excrement and other materials transported by the sewers, in violation of the Environmental Quality Acthe laments.

“Every time we set foot in the water, we find it,” says the man whose organization is often mandated by municipalities to determine the sources of contamination of a watercourse on their territory.

It is a major source of pollution. […] This prevents us from recovering uses [des cours d’eau]including swimming.

Alain Saladzius, president of the Rivières Foundation

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAMH), which manages PRIMEAU and its budget envelope of $2.4 billion, indicates that it has withdrawn the requirement to repair reverse connections because they do not fall under the the responsibility of municipalities.

“Reverse connections are located, most of the time, on citizens’ private properties and are not eligible for programs [de subvention] », declared Sébastien Gariépy, spokesperson for the Ministry.

“That’s not true!” », retorts Alain Saladzius.

“The connections are made on municipal land, under the street,” he says, adding that building owners, even if they are responsible for non-compliant connections, are generally unaware that their sewer is poorly connected.

“The municipality which did not carry out the inspection also has some responsibility,” adds Mr. Saladzius.

Previously required… but not controlled

The previous version of PRIMEAU and previous municipal water infrastructure financing programs required that beneficiary municipalities develop a plan to eliminate reverse connections and apply it.

However, the Ministry did not check whether the municipalities to which it paid funds were indeed making the required corrections, accuses the Rivières Foundation.

“When I was at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, around 2010, I reported this problem to management,” says Alain Saladzius, explaining that there were not enough resources to ensure that municipalities fulfilled their commitments.

“I was told that we would not verify compliance with the condition,” he said.

The Rivières Foundation sent a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Andrée Laforest, in August 2021, to propose possible solutions, but said it did not receive any response.

The organization then filed a complaint with the Sustainable Development Commissioner of Quebec, who is the assistant to the Auditor General – the status of the file is unknown, the process being confidential.

Minister Laforest’s office affirms that the mere submission of an action plan “was sufficient to meet the requirement” of the program, indicated her press secretary Élodie Masson.

However, it is written in black and white in the memorandums of understanding signed by the Ministry and the municipalities having received funding through the former PRIMEAU that “the Beneficiary [doit démontrer] that he designed and implemented a program to eliminate sewer cross-connections.”

Objective… 2007

The Quebec government had committed to eliminating reverse connections and other illegal connections before 2007 in order to put an end to wastewater discharges in dry weather – therefore excluding overflows that occur during heavy rains.

This commitment appeared in the national water policy adopted in 2002 under the PQ government of Bernard Landry; André Boisclair was then Minister of State for Municipal Affairs and the Metropolis, Environment and Water.

“Twenty-one years later, we have regressed! », protests Alain Saladzius, who says he is discovering more and more cases.

However, detecting reverse connections is simple, he points out. However, their correction is costly due to the excavation required.

“Municipalities do not dare confront owners, forcing them to do work that can cost thousands of dollars,” says Mr. Saladzius.

This is why the Rivières Foundation is proposing that this work be carried out by the cities – even if it means that they then pass the bill on to the citizens at fault – and that they be eligible for subsidies, in particular through the Program de la gas tax and the Quebec contribution, which finances municipal water infrastructure work.

It is also not too late to reinstate the requirement to correct reverse connections to obtain funds from PRIMEAU, adds Alain Saladzius.

An issue that costs millions of dollars

Reverse sewer connections are costing Quebec taxpayers millions of dollars if they are not corrected. The City of Montreal was forced by the courts to channel the Meadowbrook Creek, contaminated in particular by reverse connections in the cities of Côte-Saint-Luc and Montreal-West, which nevertheless received funds from Quebec through the PRIMEAU and previous programs. “It cost Montreal millions because two cities did not do their homework,” laments Alain Saladzius, of the Rivières Foundation. He also cites the example of Repentigny, struggling with inverted connections which prevent swimming in the L’Assomption River, according to a recent study by his organization, and whose correction risks being costly.

Learn more

  • 10 years
    Expected duration of the Municipal Water Infrastructure Program, with a budget of $2.4 billion

    Source: MAMH

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