Reworked sewage rules may cost Man. farmers

Proposed changes to how rural Manitobans manage sewage disposal could mean money down the drain for farmers who can’t hook into municipal wastewater systems, the province’s general ag group warns.

In an op-ed article released Thursday, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart calls on the provincial government to run its own research on the effectiveness of sewage ejectors in various soil conditions around Manitoba, “before they force hundreds of producers to pay tens of thousands of dollars for replacement systems.”

Planned changes to the onsite wastewater management systems regulation (OWMS) under the provincial Environment Act will affect any farmers who aren’t connected to community wastewater treatment infrastructure and instead rely on disposal fields, sewage ejector systems or holding tanks, Wishart wrote.

The revised regulations mean the required lot size for disposal field use will increase to two acres, thus forcing residents to hook up to their municipal wastewater infrastructure where available, said Wishart, who farms near Portage la Prairie.

As well, he wrote, the list of “sensitive areas” in the province where only holding tanks can be used will be expanded. Furthermore, the installation of new sewage ejectors will be prohibited, forcing the replacement of all existing sewage ejectors at the time of property transfer, Wishart wrote.

“We understand the concerns regarding spreading sewage on top of land,” he wrote, “but we are not convinced that the province has done its due diligence in researching the effectiveness of sewage ejectors.”

Variances

Specifically, he wrote, in certain soil conditions, the ground has the capacity to properly treat sewage without the spread of nutrients into watersheds or pathogens into groundwater supplies.

And while KAP understands “the need for a controlled environment to deal with pathogen risks,” the group has yet to see “any scientific research indicating that sewage ejectors are responsible for any nutrient loading in the province,” Wishart wrote.

Rural property owners who have to decommission a sewage ejector and replace it with a disposal field or a holding tank could face a bill as high as $20,000 to do so, he wrote.

“If a producer can prove that their sewage ejector system is equally effective to a disposal field, we see no reason why they should be forced to pay this significant expense,” he wrote.

And if a study finds some soil types can’t handle ejectors, the province could allow for variances where a study can prove such a system properly treats effluent and doesn’t leach nutrients or pathogens, Wishart wrote.

All that said, Wishart noted that the revised OWMS regulations also try to address inadequate sewage treatment systems in cottage areas and other developments. “We see this as a positive move, as for too long farmers have been bearing the brunt of the blame for nutrient loading in the province’s lakes and watersheds,” he wrote.

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