Just after midnight on Wednesday morning, the city of Montreal began dumping billions of gallons of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Local officials say the controversial sewage dump could last a week and discharge as many as 2.1 billion gallons of waste into the river, which runs north along the New York border from Lake Ontario into the Atlantic Ocean. If the idea of dumping billions of gallons of sewage into a river sounds pretty gross to you that’s because it is.
The government says the sewage dump is needed in order to repair underground sewage infrastructure that, it says, would cause even bigger problems if it were to break unexpectedly. Environmentalists were, understandably, not happy. Because the dump is downstream of the U.S. it is not expected to impact parts of the river that create a shared border between the two countries.
“Montreal has called on residents living in sectors where the sewers are discharging directly into the river to refrain from flushing certain items such as diapers, condoms and medications” the Canadian Press reports. Signs were also posted along the river near the city’s main port telling people to avoid touching the water. “Despite the large size of the dump, waste will probably be quickly diluted and swept away by the huge volume of the river and there was no odor or physical signs of the operation…” Reuters reports.
The dump was controversial enough to be a campaign issue during Canada’s recent election and the newly appointed environment minister has signed off on the plan. Proponents of the sewage dump, which has been signed off on by all levels of government, say the controlled dump is the best of a number of unappealing options. “It is not in a happy fashion that we approach this,” Montreal mayor Denis Coderre said Tuesday. “If we could have avoided this choice, we would have done so. And if there had been better options, we would have adopted them.”
“An independent audit ordered by Canada’s environment ministry, released last week, indicated the risks associated with a planned discharge of sewage could be controlled,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “That audit also indicated the sewage infrastructure had deteriorated over the past five years.”