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Toronto seems to have a weird and expensive loophole in its sewer bylaw.

Virtually every municipal sewer bylaw prohibits the discharge of non-municipal water, such as storm water or groundwater, into its sanitary sewers. Stormwater and groundwater are permitted only in storm or combined sewers, because putting them into sanitary sewers drives up municipal sewage management costs, reduces treatment efficiency, and causes polluting overflows. Exceptions are typically made only for good reason, and only in exchange for paying the municipality to take the stormwater / groundwater, by way of a sanitary discharge agreement.

That’s what Toronto Water thinks its bylaw says, but is it what the Toronto sewer bylaw actually says? Read the Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 681, Sewers, Section 681-2C(1) for yourself:

“The discharge of water originating from a source other than the City water supply, including storm water or groundwater, directly or indirectly to a sanitary sewer or combined sewer is prohibited, unless:

  • (a) The discharge is in accordance with a sanitary discharge agreement, pursuant to § 681-6; provided, however, that this requirement shall not apply to rainwater used for washroom facilities;
  • (b) The discharge does not exceed the limits set out under Table 1 – Limits for Sanitary and Combined Sewers Discharge, with respect to biochemical oxygen demand, phenolics (4AAP), total kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), total phosphorus or total suspended solids; OR
  • (c) In the event the discharge does exceed the limits set out under Table 1 – Limits for Sanitary and Combined Sewers Discharge, with respect to any of biochemical oxygen demand, phenolics (4AAP), total kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), total phosphorus or total suspended solids, the discharge is in accordance with an industrial waste surcharge agreement pursuant to § 681-6.”

In other words:

Since the three clauses are disjunctive (separated by OR), clause (b) says that anyone may discharge storm water (or other non-City water) to a sanitary sewer, WITHOUT A SANITARY DISCHARGE AGREEMENT, as long as the water meets the sanitary discharge criteria. It therefore makes nonsense out of clause (a): why would anyone pay for a sanitary discharge agreement under (a) if they can discharge the same water to the sanitary sewer for free, as of right under (b)?

This is an obvious drafting error. Clause (b) was likely meant to apply only to combined sewers, but that’s not what it says.

Note, clause (c) is fine as drafted; it deals with extra strength waste discharges governed by industrial waste surcharge agreements.

One presumes that the City will fix this soon, but meanwhile, large dischargers have to decide whether to take advantage of the unintended loophole…

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