The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #3:
Just this past week the City of Toronto was informed by the Ministry of the Environment that it must now notify the public whenever water treatment plants are bypassed and raw sewage is sent into Lake Ontario. These occurrences are said to be due to heavy rains taking their toll on Toronto's "old sewer system," something that is said to occur about three times a month, year round.
According to Mark Mattson, director of the charity Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Toronto's streets and harbours were inundated with more than a billion litres of sewage in July 2013, when more than 90mm of rain fell on the city in just two hours. This, however, doesn't seem to be a freak occurrence, as New York State similarly enacted laws this summer requiring public notification within four hours of raw sewage being sent into its watersheds.
"I think there's a real demand for this information," said Mattson, a point that's hard to refute since the "boaters, paddlers and hikers on many of the rivers and trails" that Mattson mentions likely don't want to come across invasions of floaters on their Saturday afternoon strolls.
But where Mattson gets it wrong, I think, is in his assessment of the problem. As he puts it, "people don't really realize that in Toronto we've got these 70-year-old pipes based on a totally antiquated understanding of how the city works." And as the Toronto Star article further explains, "the current sewers were built with different demands in mind, and... the aging infrastructure is failing to keep pace." In other words, Mattson (and perhaps even the Toronto Star) don't really grasp how cities "work," nor realize what are at the heart of the demands of "current sewers."