Platform: The Gomberg for Mayor Platform Plank on Water

The Gomberg for Mayor platform plank on Water.

Water is essential to all life, and belongs not just to people but to all of Earth’s species. Always cycling in the environment, water cannot be “owned” but is a public trust.

Canadians take water for granted, needlessly polluting it and using the most per capita in the world next to Americans, ignoring imminent global water shortages. Already, 31 countries face severe water shortages that threaten local food security and climate change threatens both water quantity and quality everywhere.

Why can’t we swim in Lake Ontario, and why do 35% of us refuse to drink Toronto’s tap water? Should the rest drink high levels of hazardous lead, mercury, aluminum, chloroform, cyanide, barium, trichlorethylene and 20,000 other toxins?

Cited as the third worst polluter in North America for two years running, Ontario has weakened water regulations, landfill standards and the Environmental Assessment Act and allows millions of tonnes of hazardous waste to be released by industry, landfills and citizens directly into sewage systems each year. The federal government permits even household use of many surprisingly toxic substances.

But sewage treatment plants are designed for biological wastes, not toxic chemicals that are then routinely released by treatment plants into our waterways, tainting drinking water, or, where trapped by sewage sludge, may become more toxic through incineration or spread on farms. And it’s not just industry. Those used batteries, motor oil, metallic wrappers, paints and super cleaners add up, while we continue to burn much of Toronto sewage sludge at Ashbridges Bay, creating dioxins and other new hazards.

Fortunately there’s much Toronto can do to fix our part of the problem. Action today will provide clean drinking water for tomorrow, open our beaches and save municipal costs.

As Mayor I would ensure the following:

1. That City Council endorse the Environmental Task Force’s Clean, Green and Healthy plan for improved water quality. The City must act on recommendations outlined in the ETF document, complete with timetables and adequate budget.

2. The City should formally recognize water as a basic human right to be publicly managed in trust for our health and for the environment, ensuring all citizens have equitable access to clean water in quantities to meet basic needs regardless of ability to pay.

3. To prevent privatization of water and sewage services, we need federal and provincial funding for upgrades of municipal water infrastructure, and to ensure city water and sewage revenues be used exclusively for the operation and maintenance of these services.

4. The City should support an Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act. One such bill, drafted by the NDP, has passed first reading but has been blocked from Committee.

5. The City must reduce storm water overflows, the number one reason for beach closures, which flush toxins and untreated sewage into the lake. To stop the rain before it hits the drain, we need: rainwater collection, on-site grey water recycling, living systems, wetlands construction, roof top gardening, doubling the tree canopy, porous surfaces, depaving, schoolyard naturalization, restoration of natural cover within 100 metres of river and creek banks, and separation of new storm water flows from sanitary sewers. We must reduce salt use with sand and other measures.

6. We must improve water conservation by: metering all water and sewage customers; tying all new building permits to on-site storm water management plans (or user pays costs); installing low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads in all city buildings; and improving leak detection and repair.

7. The city must prevent more water pollution with measures to:

  • prosecute industrial polluters and insist Ottawa meets its Great Lakes “zero discharge” commitment;
  • vigorously enforce Toronto’s new sewers use bylaw, the most stringent in North America, with more trained inspectors and special measures for target sectors like dentistry;
  • tie water costs to the environmental impact of its use;
  • improve hazardous waste education, pickups and dropoffs, with fines for improper handling of paints, solvents, auto fluids and batteries;
  • expand the Don River Task Force and set up a Humber River Task Force.

8. We must better manage sludge by:

  • diverting it from incineration;
  • stopping the food crop application of bioactive sludge cake;
  • optimizing use of a new pelletizer which kills pathogens, dedicating pellets for land reclamation and forestry and declaring a three year moratorium on all city and food crop use until studies are done;
  • upgrading services with massive investment in composting infrastructure, technology and training;
  • exploring the use of ozone to replace some chlorine use, and;
  • ending fluoride “boosting” – it’s more of a health hazard than a benefit to teeth.

9. Insist on a provincial Environmental Assessment for pipelines proposed and/or built to move contaminated Pickering area water to 905-zone developments in Halton and York Regions for 1 million more people. Urban sprawl is bad for Toronto water and York should limit sprawl, pay for Toronto water conservation and protection and share in cleaner Toronto water.