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Upper York Sewage Solutions (UYSS) — Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What is the Upper York Sewage Solutions?

To accommodate forecasted growth in the Towns of Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury, York Region must develop a sustainable sewage solution in the service area.

This involves providing water reclamation and sewage servicing to accommodate forecasted population growth to the year 2031 and must provide for approximately 47 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage capacity/wastewater servicing.

As part of the terms of reference for the Environmental Assessment (EA), four alternatives were recommended:

  • Do nothing;
  • Discharge treated wastewater into Lake Ontario;
  • Discharge treated wastewater into Lake Simcoe; or
  • Develop and implement innovative wastewater treatment technologies.

As a result of a detailed assessment, the preferred solution is a proposed Water Reclamation Centre that discharges into Lake Simcoe and proposed modifications to the York Durham Sewage System.

For more information including Terms of Reference and other details, read York Region's UYSS FAQ

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Q2: What is an Environmental Assessment?

Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act requires proponents to examine and document the environmental effects that might result from major projects or activities. Municipal undertakings became subject to the Act in 1981.

The Act defines the environment broadly as:

  1. Air, land or water;
  2. Plant and animal life, including man;
  3. The social, economic and cultural conditions that influence the life of man or a community;
  4. Any building, structure, machine or other device or thing made by man;
  5. Any solid, liquid, gas, odour, heat, sound, vibration or radiation resulting directly or indirect from activities of man; and,
  6. Any part or combination of the foregoing and the interrelationships between any two or more of them.

For more information on the Environmental Assessment process and the many steps involved, please visit: Ontario Ministry of Environment Website - Environmental Assessment Process external link opens new window

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Q3: At what stage is the Environmental Assessment Process?

As of July 2012, York Region is in the process of preparing an Environmental Assessment. This is the second step involved in the entire process. In this step, York Region must include the results of its planning and decision-making process. The EA also includes the identification and evaluation of alternatives, what their environmental effects are, impact mitigation and management measures, and a record of consultation.

As part of the prescribed process, York Region can take as much time as needed to prepare the EA document.
Currently, in their preparation of the Environmental Assessment, York Region is completing the site selection and design stage. 

During this stage, York Region is also looking at modifications to the existing York Durham Sewage System (YDSS) in Newmarket. The modifications include an additional sewage forcemain for the Newmarket and Bogart Creek Pumping Stations. These are needed to accommodate growth in most of Newmarket and Aurora, to provide additional system reliability during high flow conditions – such as storms – and to relieve the system during maintenance.

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Q4: What is the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s role in the UYSS?

As an organization with the primary responsibility of watershed management, we strive to balance community needs with the watershed’s ecological needs. Through our integrated watershed management approach we use science and research, protection and restoration, education and engagement and leadership and support strategies to ensure that we meet the evolving process of managing human activities and natural resources.

As part of that process of ensuring balance, we also carry out regulatory and planning advisory roles established by the Conservation Authorities Act.  

As a flood and hazard land manager and a commenting agency through the environmental planning process, we are responsible for reviewing the Environmental Assessment reports and providing our comments and advice.

Our Review Process:

To review and evaluate the EA reports provided by York Region’s consultant, we formed a multi-disciplinary team of LSRCA staff.  Throughout the first quarter of 2012, our team undertook a thorough technical review of the current UYSS Environmental Assessment reports and presented our findings to the LSRCA Board of Directors (the LSRCA Board of Directors is made up of 19 elected officials and a citizen appointee  from across our watershed).

As the Environmental Assessment process progresses, we will continue to request Environmental Assessment reports and studies to ensure current reviews, comments and reports to our Board of Directors are available to the public.

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Q5: Why is Lake Simcoe the Solution?

The innovative water reclamation centre being proposed by York Region will truly result in the least amount of disturbance to the natural heritage and ecosystem in our watershed. It is also a very sustainable plant in regards to water management, since it will be designed as a showcase to demonstrate advanced technology. To accommodate forecasted growth, the new centre has the capability to grow as new regulations and advances in technology become available.

To date, scientific review of the environmental assessment reports concur that the Lake Simcoe WRC is the most sustainable and environmentally responsible solution. Our review supports the following findings as to the function of the proposed Water Reclamation Centre (WRC):

  • the WRC is the least disruptive to natural heritage features within the watershed
  • the WRC eliminates the necessity for additional wastewater infrastructure to cross through the Oak Ridges Moraine – an extraordinary natural feature that is protected by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act
  • The WRC is the least disruptive to groundwater resources and will improve the watershed’s water balance
  • Through water reuse, water stresses within the East Holland and the Maskinonge River subwatersheds are addressed.

Ultimately the new plant will be an innovative solution that integrates advanced technology and wastewater treatment methods to improve and increase the sustainability and vitality of our lake system and its habitats.

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Q6: What is the technology that is being proposed?

Referred to by York Region as a Water Reclamation Centre, the technology proposed to treat the sewage and water involves a second, and third,  membrane treatment, which are relatively common technologies currently being used within the watershed.

The innovative technology proposed to improve pollutant removal is the addition of reverse osmosis (RO) process. The RO system significantly improves the removal of a wide range of contaminants in the water, especially phosphorus.

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Q7: Will the new WRC affect drinking water quality in the Lake Simcoe Watershed?

There are currently 15 wastewater treatment facilities (sewage treatment plants) within the watershed.
Of these, seven discharge directly into Lake Simcoe and the remaining eight discharge into tributaries draining into the Lake.

The operation of all of these facilities is closely regulated by the Ministry of the Environment. The new Water Reclamation Centre will come under the same stringent regulations as all plants throughout Ontario. All drinking water systems in the Lake Simcoe watershed – and across Ontario – are tested. Tests conducted on samples from Ontario’s drinking water systems consistently show that municipal residential drinking water systems are meeting Ontario’s rigorous health-based standards.

Ontario’s drinking water meets strict standards and the high levels of performance of our drinking water systems are continually improving. Ontario’s multifaceted approach to drinking water protection is a world-class system that safeguards our water from source to tap.

For more information on Ontario’s drinking water visit external link opens new window

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Q8: Should I be concerned about Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)?

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) are defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock. PPCPs comprise a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, and cosmetics.”

The term “PPCPs” has only existed for a few years. However these bioactive chemicals – substances that affect living tissue – have been around for decades.

As a result of extremely low  concentration levels, the Canadian and Ontario governments do not consider PPCPs to be a water quality or human health threat. Nonetheless, most municipal wastewater treatment facilities do remove some PPCPs.  The same applies to drinking water treatment plants providing water to residences and businesses throughout the Lake Simcoe watershed.

Scientific studies show that reverse osmosis technology – which is proposed for the UYSS/Water Reclamation Centre – is the most effective method for the removal of  PPCPs. Research shows 97% of the PPCPs present in the wastewater effluent are removed.

The proposed Water Reclamation Centre (UYSS) will use both reverse osmosis and membrane filtration systems to remove PPCPs. As a result, it is likely that this treatment technology will reduce the current loading of PPCPs to both the East Holland River and Lake Simcoe.

Overall, the continual monitoring and regulation by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment will ensure the protection of citizens and all others receiving water from the Lake Simcoe watershed.

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Q9: Will the new plant outflow affect the water temperature in the East Holland River and Lake Simcoe?

The proposed temperature of the water being discharged from the Water Reclamation Centre (WRC) will follow a seasonal trend.

There is no predicted or anticipated impact of WRC discharge on the water temperature in Lake Simcoe. Nevertheless, there may be an increase in water temperature of the East Holland River in the winter months.

In order to study and confirm this event, we have requested more detailed analysis of winter water temperature conditions. When study results are available, we will report our findings to the LSRCA Board of Directors.

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Q10: Will output from the Water Reclamation Centre affect water levels or flooding?

The discharge from the WRC will not impact flooding in the East Holland River.

The results of our research show the maximum increase in water level associated with the WRC is about 2.3 cm - about one inch. The increase in the level would occur during low water\lake conditions.

During high water conditions the increase would be about 2mm, which would not have any significant impact on flood levels.

Our research also indicates that due to evaporation and how the Trent Severn Waterway (TSW) controls the water level of Lake Simcoe, the addition of the discharge will not impact Lake Simcoe water levels.

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Q11: Will the discharge from the WRC affect the aquatic ecosystem of the River and the Lake?

Based on current data, the discharge from the Water Reclamation Centre (WRC) will not have any negative impacts on the aquatic ecosystem. In fact, the opposite will occur. Improved water quality from the WRC discharge will result in better conditions for fish and other aquatic life.

Currently the aquatic habitat of the East Holland River is characterized as degraded. With the daily discharge from the water reclamation centre, there will be higher water levels during summer months providing a  valuable habitat for amphibians, reptiles, young fish and minnows.

Concern over phosphorus loads in Lake Simcoe:

Under The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, the Ministry of the Environment, through the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, has proposed a lower annual limit for phosphorous loading, in comparison to the current allowable limit.

Even with the implementation of the advanced wastewater treatment technology, a small increase to the phosphorus load of Lake Simcoe is associated with the Water Reclamation Centre.

To address this issue, the Region of York will implement a phosphorus reduction off-setting program as part of the WRC. This will result in a positive impact on water quality within the East Holland River and, Lake Simcoe, improving the health of the lake and river.

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Here is some background on site selection:

Q12: What are the criteria around the site selection for the proposed Water Reclamation Centre?

As part of the planning process, to find the appropriate site options for the new Water Reclamation Centre, a number of technical requirements were considered, including:

  • Proximity to sensitive features including wetlands, habitats of endangered and threatened species
  • Significant wooded areas
  • The greenbelt natural heritage system
  • The Oak Ridges Moraine
  • Regulated floodplain
  • Location on a regional roadway to accommodate possible increased truck traffic
  • Site design and
  • Proximity to residences.

Following the completed site screening process, four sites, with demonstrated advantages, have been carried forward for comparative evaluation. The sites can accommodate the proposed Water Reclamation Centre while minimizing potential adverse environmental effects. 

As part of the UYSS Environmental Assessment being followed by York Region, the four sites will now undergo a detailed environmental study. All of the current (July 2012) proposed sites are located in East Gwillimbury.

In June 2012, East Gwillimbury Council discussed a motion calling on York Region to consider alternative discharge and site locations prior to it selecting the preferred site for the water reclamation/sewage centre. Council also requested representatives from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to present their findings on the current Environmental Assessment at their July 16, 2012 Committee of the Whole meeting.

A videotape of the presentation is posted on the municipality’s website at Town of East Gwillimbury Website - LSRCA EA Review Presentation external link opens new window

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Q13: What are the design guidelines for the Water Reclamation Centre?

The Water Reclamation Centre will be designed following the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Design Guidelines for Sewage Works, 2008. The centre will be designed to:

  • Accommodate peak flow and incorporate back-up systems
  • Maintain a connection to the York Durham Sewage System through York Region’s Newmarket pumping station
  • Incorporate enhanced air handling technology – including air treatment to reduce the amount of odour-containing compounds prior to being released  into the atmosphere
  • Handle on-site treatment of any biosolid waste (sewage)
  • Accommodate waste haulage trucks and area traffic, depending on the sewage process option selected
  • Be surrounded by trees to minimize visual distractions on at least 30 hectares of land
  • Designed to use reverse osmosis (RO), an innovative technology which will improve pollutant removal. It will significantly improve the removal of a wide range of contaminants particularly phosphorus.
  • Allow  for phased implementation between 2016 and 2026 to defer capital expenditures
  • Have a lower capital cost as it can be constructed two years earlier than the Lake Ontario alternative
  • Have the majority of the treatment facility enclosed and have air emissions treated to remove odour prior to being released
  • Include conventional sewage treatment facilities, have a water reclamation centre and support facilities, such as administration buildings, public outreach, teaching and research space. There will also be testing pods.

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Q14: What are the next steps for the LSRCA in the Environmental Review Process?

The Board of Directors of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority reviewed the information and Staff Report provided for the preferred alternative at its June, 2012 meeting. Staff were directed to continue to participate in the York Region Environmental Assessment Study and report back to the Board with comments.

We are aware of and understand your concerns about how the UYSS will impact you and your community and we will continue to work with our partners to update information, respond to issues and share our position with you at each stage of the EA process.

As advocates for water re-use, sustainable development, phosphorous offsetting and other activities, we are very pleased that York Region has addressed these practices in the development of the UYSS. The UYSS and Water Reclamation Centre represent a leading-edge approach in wastewater treatment and is an example of the innovative solutions the LSRCA has been championing for the past decade.

The Water Reclamation Centre is proposed to be a centre of excellence for sustainable and innovative wastewater treatment and reclaimed water use, based on proven advanced treatment technologies. To demonstrate the operation and performance of these technologies, York Region has established a demonstration facility in East Gwillimbury at the Mount Albert Water Pollution Control Plant.

Visitors can learn about low pressure membranes and reverse osmosis processes, while York Region tests these advanced technologies through the four seasons. Tours of the facility are available in 2012 and through March, 2013. Advanced tour registration is required by calling 905-830-5656.


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