Canadian Environment Minister André Boisclair pledged to stop the flow of raw sewage from Montreal Island into the St. Lawrence River. A new water policy, to be unveiled "in a matter of days," will end the problem of sewers overflowing and raw sewage getting into the river during heavy rainstorms, Boisclair stated.
A development plan also was unveiled for a stretch of river upstream from Montreal calling for beaches, parks, bike paths and more.
As for the sewage plan, Boisclair said, "This problem must be resolved and the new National Water Policy will resolve it."
Montreal's combined trunk sewer system collects both domestic wastewater and stormwater, and carries it to the treatment plant in Rivière des Prairies. During periods of heavy rainfall, the volume of water in that combined trunk can be 50 times higher than in dry weather.
The plant was designed to treat up to 80 percent of this additional water, but when the volume exceeds capacity it spills into the river untreated. As a result, large quantities of contaminants make it into the river, including viruses, bacteria, suspended solids and industrial effluents.
One remedy would be to build holding tanks, at an estimated cost of $400 million, to gather stormwater and then release it gradually into the sewers for treatment.
Quebec's new water policy, the environment minister said, will make it clear that water should be protected as a public resource, and not regarded as a commodity to be bought and sold on commercial markets.
"This precious resource should be sheltered from commercial decisions and the cold rules of globalization," he said.
The soon-to-be unveiled water policy will outline new principles and laws, as well as the funds to implement them, he promised, without elaborating.
Boisclair made the comments after pledging his government's financial support for a long-term development plan for the Croissant de l'Est, a 400-square-kilometre stretch of river and shoreline from Montreal to Lanoraie, 60 kilometres upstream.
That plan, unveiled at the Biosphere on Île Ste. Hélène, outlines 86 projects to make the river more accessible to the public, including beaches, bicycle paths, boat tours, docks, marinas and riverside parks.
Input came from 10 municipalities in the region, the provincial and federal governments and local tourism, environmental and economic organizations. If implemented, the projects will cost an estimated $47 million, funded by municipalities, Quebec and Ottawa and other partners.