The Canada-Wide Wastewater Strategy--The New Wastewater Regulations

by Kevin Latimer, Q.C. and Mark Mills, Articled Clerk, Cox & Palmer

In an earlier article, published May 7, 2010, we gave a status report on the Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater Effluent. We commented on the draft Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, which were developed to implement the Wastewater Strategy, and which proposed new and extensive requirements for the monitoring of water quality, invertebrate organisms, and fish in receiving waters.

The purpose of the Wastewater Strategy is to control the risk posed to human and environmental health by wastewater through the implementation of systems and measures to reduce pollutants in municipal wastewater.

The new Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations were enacted on June 29, 2012. While the new regulations are in substance much like the proposed regulations published in the Royal Gazette on March 20, 2011, there have been several important changes. Of particular note are: delayed coming into force dates of various provisions, new requirements for Combined Sewer Overflow reporting, the categorization of wastewater systems as either continuous or intermittent, and the removal of the emergency response plans. The effects of the new regulations are discussed below:

1.        Effluent Quality Standards

On January 1st, 2015, National Performance Standards representing the maximum allowable concentrations of common parameters in wastewater discharges will come into effect. These common parameters are carbonaceous biological oxygen demand (CBOD), suspended solids, chlorine (when used in the treatment of wastewater), and un-iodized ammonia. The new regulations also adopt new acute lethality standards for effluent, establishing maximum allowable levels of toxicity in wastewater. Non-compliant facilities may apply for transitional authorization for additional time to become compliant (see #4 below).

       2.         Monitoring

The regulations set new standards for the installation, maintenance, and use of monitoring equipment, aimed at measuring the volume of effluent deposited from a wastewater facility. Different standards apply for intermittent and continuous wastewater systems, and these requirements are reflected in the new regulations, which previously made no distinction.

The provisions requiring environmental effects monitoring and reporting as found in the draft regulations were removed from the current regulations, however it is likely that provisions of this type will be included by amendment in the future.

       3.          Reporting

The frequency of monitoring reports depends on the average daily volume of effluent deposits at a given wastewater facility. Records, copies of reports, and any supporting documents, as prescribed in the Regulations, need to be kept for at least five years at the wastewater system or at any other place in Canada where they could be inspected. Information pertaining to monitoring equipment also needs to be kept for at least five years after the useful life of the equipment. Identification reports, which contain information about the owners and operators of systems as well as information specific to individual wastewater systems, need to be kept for at least five years after a wastewater system is decommissioned.

In addition to the distinction between continuous and intermittent systems, the new regulations allow an owner of 10 or more non-compliant wastewater systems to apply for those systems to be consolidated and deemed a "fictional consolidated wastewater system" to which different reporting standards apply.

Combined Sewer Overflow Reports

The new regulations require that owners and operators of wastewater systems that include at least one combined sewer overflow point send annual reports containing detailed information regarding effluent deposited via those points, or where there were periods where no effluent was deposited, a statement to that effect.

It is likely that future amendments to the regulations will impose more onerous requirements with regards to combined sewer overflows.

Emergency Response

Under the proposed regulations owners and operators of all wastewater systems are were required to prepare a response plan to prevent any deposit of a deleterious substance out of the normal course of events from the wastewater system into surface water. This section has been removed entirely from the new regulations.

        4.         Transitional Authorization

Owners and operators are now able apply for transitional authorization on or before June 30th, 2014, permitting the deposit of listed deleterious substances in waters under certain conditions; allowing time to become compliant with the requirements under the new regulations.

Wastewater facilities are attributed a risk level based on factors such as volume levels, concentrations of effluent, and discharge point. Where authorization is obtained, high risk facilities must become compliant by 2020, medium risk facilities by 2030, and low-risk facilities by 2040.  

Applications for Transitional Authorization must include information demonstrating the inability of the facility to meet the effluent standards under the regulations, as well as plans for modification to the wastewater system and combined sewer overflow points to become compliant. The new regulations provide sections addressing changes to plans for modification as well as early expiry of transitional authority.

The regulations set out a similar process for applications for temporary authorization to deposit un-ionized ammonia, and for temporary bypass of a treatment process.

       5.          Cost of Implementation

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) estimates the total cost of implementing the new regulations is more than $20 billion. The FCM notes that approximately 75% of Canadian municipalities are already compliant with the new regulations and require no changes. The percentage of Atlantic Canadian municipalities already in compliance with the wastewater regulations however, is significantly lower. As a result, a large number of Atlantic Canadian communities will need to make significant changes in order to become compliant with the regulations. The high costs associated with making the required changes make it necessary that municipalities find effective solutions to manage these increased costs.


It is critical for owners of municipal wastewater facilities to be aware of the effluent quality standards mandated by the new regulations and the impact they will have. While owners and operators have a window of time to become compliant with these standards, the new monitoring and reporting requirements, along with the requirements for transitional authorization necessitate short-term changes to the operation and management of wastewater facilities. 

Likewise, it is important that owners are well acquainted with the regulations in order to address the compliance challenges and the associated costs.

A copy of the regulations can be obtained by clicking here.  If you have questions regarding the Wastewater Strategy, feel free to contact Kevin Latimer, Q.C. by telephone at (902)421-4212 or email at .


For more information regarding Canada's wastewater regulations visit:

Kevin Latimer, Q.C. a partner in the Halifax office of Cox & Palmer, counsel to UNSM, practices in the areas of municipal and planning law, administrative and public law litigation. Mark Mills is an articled clerk with Cox & Palmer.