Backstory: On 25 October 2022 the Provincial Government announced plans to discharge treated wastewater from Newmarket and the surrounding areas into Lake Ontario saying the previous plan to put the effluent into Lake Simcoe was no longer the best solution. 

The Environment Minister, David Piccini, accused the previous Liberal Government – with some justification – of dragging its feet, neglecting to make a decision on critical infrastructure. The Ford Government now wants to send the wastewater down to the Duffin Creek treatment plant in Pickering before being discharged into Lake Ontario. (Photo right)

A so-called “panel of experts” ruled out the ready-to-go North York Sewage Solutions project on the grounds that it wouldn't support growth long term in Upper York region and would increase phosphorus discharges to Lake Simcoe. And, importantly, the Chippewas of Georgina Island were dead against

Newmarket-Aurora's new MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, told me in September she would accept the report of the expert panel convened by the Ford Government last year to decide where Newmarket’s sewage should go – up to Lake Simcoe or down to Lake Ontario. The panel chose the latter.

The report, not even three weeks old, has now been overtaken by events. Will the treatment plant at Pickering on the shores of Lake Ontario be able to handle the extra load generated by the thousands of new houses that Ford wants to see being built in Newmarket and on the adjacent Greenbelt which is to be opened up for development?

Servicing capacity "fully used up" in five years

The Panel knows an alternative is urgently required: 

"The 2021 Servicing Capacity Assignment Status Update completed by York Region indicates that there is only approximately five years of growth capacity available in the York Durham Sewage System for the Upper York Sewage Service area. This means that, without receiving approval from the province of the Upper York Sewage Solutions project, servicing capacity for new development in Aurora, East Gwillimbury and Newmarket will be fully used up in about five years, restricting development and limiting the ability to meet Growth Plan targets after that period."

The Panel says

"updated growth projections completed since the submission of the 2014 Environmental Assessment show slower uptake and deferred growth projections for the UYSS service area. The previous 2031 population and employment targets are not anticipated to be reached until 2039. A 40 MLD (million litres per day) solution would now service growth to 2039 based on updated growth projections from the draft 2021 York Official Plan. An 80 MLD solution could service growth out to 2055."

The Panel believes this gives the Provincial Government some breathing space.

Growth has, of course, been reined back precisely because of these very same capacity constraints which the Panel has itself acknowledged.

In Newmarket these “servicing allocations” have been rationed for years in the absence of the sewage capacity needed to handle all the applications for new developments in the Town. 

"Completely ignored or underplayed"

However, the “panel of experts” set up last year to examine the issue afresh has produced a report which does not take into account the huge number of new homes planned for Greenbelt land which was announced on 4 November 2022.

The left hand really doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

At York Regional Council on 10 November 2022, Public Works Commissioner, the impressive Erin Mahoney, tells Newmarket Mayor, John Taylor:

“We see it as a bit of an oversight on the panel's recommendations that these higher population projections, now being advocated for by the province, were not included in the definition of the solution.”

Taylor fears that the Duffin Creek plant may not be able to handle the extra load without a major upgrade which, he says, may cost many millions of dollars.

Mahoney tells Taylor:

“The implications on Duffin Creek you could either say were completely ignored or underplayed in schedule 10.” (of Bill 23: More Homes Built Faster).”

Upgrading Duffin Creek

Taylor says the new population figures arising from the thousands of new homes which the Province wants to see built in Newmarket – and the new housing developments in the adjacent Greenbelt – have not been factored into the province’s calculations and the Duffin Creek plant may need an expensive upgrade in seven or eight years. 

Earlier, at Queen’s Park on 1 November 2022, Dawn Gallagher Murphy asks the Environment Minister David Piccini: 

“York region has waited on an answer to its Upper York Sewage Solutions proposal since 2014, and I know that our government has been steadfast in working on this file since we came to government. Our government assigned the York region wastewater independent advisory panel to consider options regarding addressing wastewater solutions for the future. The panel has now published a report backing the Duffin Creek treatment facility for wastewater management.

Can the minister please elaborate on how this decision was made and why this is the right choice for all of Ontario and my community of Newmarket–Aurora in the great region of York?”

The Minister thanks the Panel for their "incredible work" claiming they’ve saved over $800 million for the ratepayers of York region:

"and provided certainty for both York and Durham regions so that folks can have a place to call home, not just today but for years to come."

But does Dawn Gallagher Murphy have any insights or information on whether Duffin Creek needs to be upgraded? And, if so, when? And at what cost? And who is going to pay? The Province or York Region taxpayers? And when can the service allocations that hold back development in her Newmarket-Aurora riding be lifted in their entirety?

Gordon Prentice 14 November 2022

Click "read more" below to see the exchanges between John Taylor and Erin Mahoney at York Regional Council on 10 November 2022.

York Regional Council on 10 November 2022

Mayor Taylor: I really do want to ask staff one quick question on this and I know they are still reviewing it… what I remember from the information we were given on this – the technical briefing that was almost entirely not technical – was that… I think it was Duffin Creek could handle the capacity now but would require an upgrade in maybe 16 years or… I forget exact number… 

But now, since then, they've (the Provincial Government) announced thousands, I don't know the exact number, but thousands and thousands of homes on the edge of East Gwillimbury and Newmarket that would have to rely on this system. So is that upgrade now in seven years or eight years… Are we at least reviewing that aspect of it? The additional lands that will be added into the system through the Greenbelt expansion on Bathurst?

Erin Mahoney: Through you Mr Chair. We are Mayor Taylor (reviewing it). Absolutely. We see it as a bit of an oversight on the panel's recommendations that these higher population projections, now being advocated for by the province, were not included in the definition of the solution.

And the implications on Duffin Creek you could either say were completely ignored or underplayed in schedule 10. So in meetings we are having - including with the Province this afternoon – we are daylighting the implications on Duffin Creek in the primary trunk which connects new south east to the head works of the plant and seeking that those exemptions that apply to other pieces of infrastructure in accordance with the schedule also apply to the primary trunk and Duffin Creek because there will be pressure on the expansion and maybe advancing the timing of the expansion that we had included in our approved master plan.

Mayor Taylor: I raised that issue. I asked them if this is based upon the new projections of larger population numbers. They said no. That's, for example, the 12,000 units in Newmarket but the lands on Bathurst St are not even included in that calculation. So this is another layer on top of …

Erin Mahoney: That's right 

Mayor Taylor: 600 plus acres with however many homes or density… all would have to go into the system as well. So it's announced the new population targets and the Greenbelt plans that are applicable to this situation which I believe is only Bathurst Street. (This) is another layer I think that requires looking at. If you do all the math on those things and we end up looking at (the) need to upgrade Duffin Creek in six years… and I don't know what was last upgrade? A billion dollars?

Erin Mahoney:  Stage three was between $600M and $700M just on the liquid side. It didn't include the solids expansion.

Mayor Taylor: Think about that as a table. Development Contributions are being reduced in multiple ways. Inflation is up and now we may be needing an upgraded Duffin Creek in six, seven, eight, nine... I don't know what number of years…

You guys will have to do the science, math on it. But at close to a billion dollars. I mean it's just another example. But that was my major question. We're doing an analysis that reflects the new population target and the Greenbelt land implications.

Regional Chair: Thank you. More information will come but it won't come probably until the first quarter of 2023… And you are right, Mayor Taylor, more capacity is needed. 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Exchange in the Ontario Legislative Assembly on 1 November 2022

Water and sewage infrastructure

Mme Dawn Gallagher Murphy: Experts are projecting that Ontario’s population is expected to increase by two to six million over the next 20 years. As many newcomers arrive in Ontario, in communities like mine, Newmarket–Aurora, York region is viewed as a favourable jurisdiction to settle down, raise a family and own a home. Many of my constituents have settled in this area, and to meet the future needs of my community’s growing population, our government must ensure environmentally sustainable growth for the great people of York region. Under the previous Liberal government, we saw how they chose to dither, delay and neglect when it came to proper environmental planning and housing development for my region.

Can the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks please explain what our government is doing for housing development in York region?

Hon. David Piccini: I’d like to thank the member opposite for her leadership and advocacy to support a critical need in housing. We heard it through the last election and we know that our municipal counterparts heard it through theirs. For years, Ontarians have struggled to find attainable home ownership. Parents and grandparents are looking in the eyes of their children, wondering if they’ll ever have a place to call home. And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, Speaker, that means we need to build the critical infrastructure to support that housing growth. Simply put, Ontarians deserve reliability and strong environmental oversight for simple actions like turning the faucet on or flushing the toilet.

It’s not sexy, I know, but for years, the previous Liberal government ignored this critical infrastructure needed to give people the dignity of a roof over their head and a place to call home, and for years, these regions struggled to meet their population growth numbers because of neglect by the previous Liberal government. Well, I’m proud to say that under the leadership of this Premier and this Minister of Housing, we’re solving the problem. We are getting shovels in ground on the roads, the bridges, the houses and, yes, the critical water and waste water infrastructure needed so that people can have a place to call home in the province of Ontario.

Mme Dawn Gallagher Murphy: Speaker, it’s great to hear from the minister about our government’s actions on this file, which is of vital importance for the people of my riding. York region has waited on an answer to its Upper York Sewage Solutions proposal since 2014, and I know that our government has been steadfast in working on this file since we came to government. Our government assigned the York region waste water independent advisory panel to consider options regarding addressing waste water solutions for the future. The panel has now published a report backing the Duffin Creek treatment facility for waste water management.

Can the minister please elaborate on how this decision was made and why this is the right choice for all of Ontario and my community of Newmarket–Aurora in the great region of York?

Hon. David Piccini: Again, thank you to the member for that important question. I would like to thank the incredible work of the panel. They’ve worked hard over the last year to provide sage advice to this government. That advice is now public for all Ontarians to see and I’d like to thank them for that work. Speaker, they’ve put forward advice that is best for the environment—a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the advice and work that this panel has done. Secondly, it’s better for cost. They’ve saved over $800 million for the ratepayers of York region, providing certainty for both York and Durham regions so that folks can have a place to call home, not just today but for years to come.

And finally, they’ve done the important work of looking at optimizing existing infrastructure. They’ve done excellent work, and that’s why our ministry is here, providing certainty for both regions, to support the growth, working with Indigenous partners to meet important duty-to-consult requirements. And, Speaker—

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you.

1 November 2022