Time to make crumbling water infrastructure a priority

    Soggy summer, sewage spills bring underground problems to the surface

    TORONTO, Oct. 7 /CNW/ - It took the wettest summer in history, but
Ontarians have finally woken up to the desperate state of water and sewer
infrastructure in this province, and the Ontario Sewer and Watermain
Construction Association (OSWCA) is calling on the federal government for
    "For years, we've been sounding the warning bell about our water systems.
This past summer, we saw our crumbling sewers cause pollution, resulting in
flood damage to homes, businesses and institutions such as hospitals, and
putting the health of Ontarians at risk," says Frank Zechner, Executive
Director of the OSWCA. "Ontarians have had enough."
    OSWCA is urging MPs and political parties to make this an issue in the
federal election campaign. Municipalities must replace their aging systems
before they collapse. But they cannot do the job alone.
    "The federal government must invest in critical water and sewer
infrastructure as a partner with the municipal and provincial levels," Zechner
says. "What we need is a multi-year commitment to stable funding, with this
money being dedicated solely to the upgrading and maintenance of water and
sewer infrastructure."
    Ontario has a massive backlog of water system repairs, an infrastructure
deficit valued at close to $18 billion. For the first time, Ontarians
understand exactly what that means, because they're now watching the system
fall apart around them.
    A new survey of 500 Ontarians in August found that an overwhelming 78%
were willing to pay more in taxes in order to build new sewage infrastructure.
    "Because these systems are 'out of sight', they have been 'out of mind'
in terms of our spending priorities for decades," says Zechner. "But now this
infrastructure IS becoming a hot political issue. People are fed up."
    The infrastructure deficit, coupled with extreme weather, has led to
sinkholes, flooding and sewage spills - most recently in Toronto, Hamilton,
Kitchener Waterloo and Durham Region. Ottawa in particular has been hit hard
this summer with spills and overflows of raw sewage into the Ottawa River.
    Ontario also has the dubious distinction of having more boil water
advisories than any other province, with 679 Ontario communities on alert
since 2006 according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
    "If we think we have problems now, just imagine the future as more
uncertain weather patterns place our crumbling water and sewer systems under
even greater strain," says Zechner. On its Severe Weather website, Environment
Canada notes "there is little debate that Canadians have experienced recent
changes in weather patterns and a substantial increase in the number and cost
of weather-related disasters."
    OSWCA has a three-part plan to put our water systems on sound financial
footing: full metering, full-cost pricing and dedicated reserves.
    Metering would enable municipalities to charge residents the true cost of
the water they use. With full-cost pricing in place, municipalities can then
begin to address their infrastructure deficits, while also creating dedicated
reserves for water and sewer systems that will provide consistent, sustainable
funding. Metering and full cost pricing will also provide an incentive to
consumers to make modest conservation efforts which collectively would reduce
the demand and volumes that our water infrastructure must handle.
    "We recognize that there is no overnight fix to decades of neglect," says
Zechner. "But if we're going to have safe, reliable drinking water and a
dependable system of wastewater management, we need an ongoing financial
commitment from all levels of government. For the sake of future generations,
we need to make this a national, provincial and local priority."

    About OSWCA

    The OSWCA - which represents over 700 companies within the sewer and
watermain construction industry - is committed to stretching our water
infrastructure dollars for the construction, rehabilitation, maintenance and
expansion of Ontario's core water and wastewater infrastructure, vital steps
to ensure a plentiful supply of clean water and the preservation of our lakes
and rivers.

For further information:

For further information: Frank Zechner, Executive Director, OSWCA, (905)
629-7766; Rachel Sa, PR POST, (416) 777-0368

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