Transcript: Ontario's Leaky Sewer Problem | May 27, 2019

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and spotted purple tie.

A caption on screen reads "Ontario's leaky sewer problem. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says MOST OFTEN WHEN PEOPLE
ENVISION FLOODING, THEY PICTURE
MASSIVE RAINSTORMS FILLING YARDS
AND BASEMENTS, OR RIVERS
CRESTING OVER THEIR BANKS.
BUT ACCORDING TO BARBARA
ROBINSON, PRESIDENT OF NORTON
ENGINEERING, ONE OF THE MOST
COMMON TYPES OF HOUSEHOLD
FLOODING ISN'T CAUSED BY RAIN
BUT BY BRAND NEW LEAKY SEWER
PIPES.
AND BARBARA ROBINSON JOINS US
NOW TO EXPLAIN.

Barbara is in her late forties, with short brown hair. She's wearing a green blazer, a white shirt, and pearl earrings.

Steve continues THANKS FOR COMING IN ON THIS.
OKAY.
THIS SOUNDS LIKE A KIND OF
BIZARRE FIRST QUESTION, BUT HOW
MUCH LEAKING ARE WE TALKING
ABOUT HERE?

The caption changes to "Barbara Robinson. Norton Engineering."
Then, it changes again to "A wet mess."

Barbara says SO MY RESEARCH HAS
SPECIFICALLY BEEN IN NEW
SUBDIVISIONS, SO NEW BUILDS.
WE BUILD BRAND NEW SEWERS AND
BRAND NEW STORMSEWERS BOTH UNDER
THE STREET AND UNDER THE PRIVATE
LOT.

Steve says AND THE WE IS THE
MUNICIPALITIES?

Barbara says IT'S ACTUALLY THE BUILDERS.
WE ALLOW A TEENY BIT OF LEAKAGE
IN ENGINEERING.
THERE'S A SMALL AMOUNT BECAUSE
IT'S CONSTRUCTION.
DATA COLLECTED FROM 60
SUBDIVISIONS ACROSS ONTARIO SHOW
PIPES ARE LEAKING 10, 15 TIMES
MORE THAN THEY SHOULD BE.
AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT.
YOU THINK OF A LITTLE BIT OF
WATER AND SEWERS, WHAT'S A BIG
DEAL?
A GARDEN HOSE, WHICH IS A LITRE
OF SECOND OF HEADQUARTER, THAT
COSTS 95,000 dollars A YEAR TRO TREAT
AT A WASTE WATER TREATMENT
PLANT.
SO WE ARE TREATING THIS CLEAN
WATER.
IT'S USING UP CAPACITY IN OUR
SEWERS, SO THERE ARE DEVELOPMENT
FREEZES AROUND AND THAT CAPACITY
IS GETTING USED UP BY CLEAN
WATER THAT SHOULDN'T BE THERE.
AND THEN WITH THE ADVENT OF
CLIMATE CHANGE, WHEN WE HAVE A
LOT OF EXTRA WATER IN THE...
AROUND THE PIPES AND AROUND THE
FOUNDATION OR WHATEVER, IT HAS
TO INCREASE THE RISK OF
FLOODING.
IT'S ABSOLUTELY CONNECTED.

Steve says CAN YOU QUANTIFY HOW
MUCH WATER IS LEAKING OUT OF ALL
THESE PIPES?

Barbara says YEAH, BASICALLY I SAID I HAVE
DATA SETS FROM ACROSS ONTARIO.
IF I TOOK A SECTION THAT ISN'T
LEAKING ALL THAT BADLY THAT WAS
2 LITRES A SECOND OF
UNACCEPTABLE WATER COMING OUT OF
THAT PARTICULAR SUBDIVISION, 120
HOMES, WHEN I MULTIPLY THAT BY
THE KINDS OF DEVELOPMENT WE'RE
EXPECTING TO SEE AROUND THE GTA,
YORK, HALTON, PEEL, BY YEAR
2041, DEPENDING ON THE RATE OF
GROWTH, IT'S GOING TO BE IN THE
TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS JUST TO
TREAT THIS WATER, MUCH LESS
CONVEY IT AND THE CLIMATE CHANGE
IMPACTS, AND FURTHERMORE, WE
HAVE TO EXPAND SEWAGE TREATMENT
PLANTS WHEN THEY GET TOO FULL.
IT'S A BUNCH OF THE WATER GOING
IN THERE IS JUST WATER THAT
SHOULDN'T BE THERE.
WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Steve says DO DEVELOPERS NOT KNOW
HOW TO LAY PIPE ANYMORE?
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM HERE?

The caption changes to "Connect with us: Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, agendaconnect@tvo.org, Instagram."

Barbara says IT'S ACTUALLY A PRETTY
COMPLEX ISSUE.
FIRSTLY, UNTIL ABOUT 10 YEARS
AGO, WE DIDN'T KNOW THAT WAS
HAPPENING.
I'VE BEEN WORKING IN SEWERS MY
WHOLE CAREER, 30 SYSTEMS.
EVERYTHING IN SEWERS YOU CAN
IMAGINE I'VE DONE.
WE ALWAYS ASSUME THAT BRAND NEW
SUBDIVISIONS WOULD BE LEAK FREE,
SO WE NEVER ASSIGNED LEAKAGE
VALUES TO THEM, BUT 10 YEARS AGO
I ACCIDENTALLY STUMBLED ACROSS A
SUBDIVISION FOR SOMETHING ELSE
AND NOTICED THE FLOWS HAD GONE
UP IN ST. JACOBS, ONTARIO, AND
SO WHEN I OPENED MY OWN COMPANY
FOUR YEARS AGO, I WAS LIKE I'VE
SEEN THIS AROUND THE KITCHENER
WATERLOO REGION, I BET IT'S A
BIGGER PROBLEM THAN THIS.
THEN I STARTED WORKING ACROSS
ONTARIO.
IT'S BASICALLY 51 OUT OF 52
SUBDIVISIONS FOR WHICH I HAVE
DATA ARE LEAKING UNACCEPTABLY.

Steve says 51 OUT OF 52?

Barbara says YES.
AND I MEAN, 60 SUBDIVISIONS
DOESN'T SEEM LIKE A LARGE DATA
SET.
HOWEVER, WE DON'T TYPICALLY FULL
MONITOR NEW SUBDIVISIONS BECAUSE
WE ALWAYS ASSUMED THEY WEREN'T
LEAKING.
AND NOW IN ONTARIO IN THE LAST
COUPLE OF YEARS A LOT OF
MUNICIPALITIES ARE STARTING TO
PUT FLOW MONITORING AT THE
DOWNSTREAM END OF A SUBDIVISION
BECAUSE WE KNOW THIS WAS A
PROBLEM THAT WAS HERETOFORE
UNRECOGNIZED.

Steve says WHAT DO YOU FIGURE
IT'S COSTING MUNICIPALITIES
EVERY YEAR?

The caption changes to "Damage done."

Barbara says I COULDN'T EVEN... IT'S HARD
TO SAY THAT APART FROM THE
TREATMENT COSTS BECAUSE IT
DEPENDS ON WHETHER THERE ARE
DEVELOPMENT FREEZES OR THE
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DRAINAGE
AREA.
BUT THE REASONS WHY THIS IS
HAPPENING, AND SO I HAVE THE
DATA THAT I STARTED WITH, BUT
THEN I STARTED INTERVIEWING
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ACROSS
ONTARIO THAT... EVERYBODY IN THE
DEVELOPMENT INDUSTRY, BUILDING
INSPECTORS, MUNICIPAL
INSPECTORS, CONTRACTORS,
CONSULTANTS, AND I SPENT A LOT
OF TIME ON SITE WATCHING.
AND FIRSTLY, THE GUIDELINES
STANDARDS AND CODES THAT WE WORK
BE ARE NOT... ARE IN SOME CASES
NOT ADEQUATE TO PREVENT THIS
LEAKAGE.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE
GUIDELINES, STANDARDS AND CODES
WE WORK UNDER ALL REQUIRE THAT
THE SEWERS BE LEAK TESTED BEFORE
THEY ARE PUT INTO SERVICE.

Steve says AND ARE THEY?

Barbara says NO.
70 percent OF THE SEWERS IN ONTARIO ARE
NOT BEING LEAK TESTING THE
PUBLIC SEWER, THE ONE UNDER THE
STREET.
IT'S COSTLY.
CONTRACTORS COMPLAIN.
IT TAKES TOO LONG.
YOU STOP CONSTRUCTION AND PUT
PLUGS IN AND WAIT.
BUT MORE ALARMINGLY ON THE
PRIVATE SIDE, THAT'S THE PIECE
OF SEWER THAT YOU'LL OWN WHEN
YOU BUY YOUR HOUSE, UP FROM YOUR
HOUSE TO THE PROPERTY LINE, 95 percent
OF BUILDING DEPARTMENTS ARE NOT
TESTING THAT LATERAL.
AND IT IS CALLED FOR IN THE
ONTARIO BUILDING CODE.
AGAIN, TAKES TOO LONG,
DEVELOPERS, BUILDERS WANT TO
MOVE ALONG.
BUT UNFORTUNATELY IF WE'RE NOT
LEAK TESTING SEWERS AND WE FIND
LATER THEY ARE LEAKING, WE'VE
LOST AN OPPORTUNITY TO PREVENT
THAT LEAKAGE FROM HAPPENING.

Steve says DO THEY RE-DIG AND FIX
AT THAT POINT?

Barbara says WELL, NO, NOBODY KNEW THAT
WAS HAPPENING, SO ALL THE
SUBDIVISIONS THAT HAVE BEEN
BUILT BEFORE WE GOT ON TO THIS,
WHO KNOWS WHAT'S GOING ON.
WHAT I'M RECOMMENDING TO
MUNICIPALITIES NOW IS PUT A FLOW
MONITOR AT THE DOWNSTREAM END.
WE LOOK AT THE FLOWS, AND I CAN
CALCULATE HOW MUCH LEAKAGE IS
ALLOWABLE FOR THOSE PARTICULAR
CIRCUMSTANCES, AND IF IT'S ABOVE
THAT LEAKAGE... I MEAN, IT'S NOT
QUITE ROCKET SCIENCE, STEVE,
BECAUSE THERE ARE A FEW FACTORS
INVOLVED OR WHATEVER.
AS LONG AS WHAT I SEE IS NEAR
THE ALLOWABLE LEAKAGE, THAT'S
CLOSE ENOUGH.
WHEN I SEE IT'S 10 OR 20 TIMES
HIGHER THAN IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE,
THEN THE MUNICIPALITY DOESN'T
RELEASE THE MONIES BACK TO THE
DEVELOPER UNTIL HE GOES AND
FIXES IT.

Steve says AND ARE THEY OPEN TO
MAKING THOSE CHANGES YOU'VE
RECOMMENDED?

Barbara says WELL, YOU KNOW, DEVELOPMENT
IS A POWERFUL INDUSTRY, AND...

Steve says SOUNDS LIKE A NO.

Barbara says YOU MAY THINK THAT.
I COULDN'T POSSIBLY SAY.

Steve says IT DOES SOUND AT THE
VERY ELASTIC INCREDIBLY
WASTEFUL.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT?

Barbara says OH, ABSOLUTELY.
IT'S CRIMINAL.
IT'S REALLY UNBELIEVABLE THIS IS
HAPPENING.

Steve says WERE THEY DOING IT
BETTER BACK IN THE DAY?

Barbara says WELL, YEAH, THAT'S AN
INTERESTING QUESTION.
IT WOULD BE MY OBSERVATION AND
THOSE OF OTHER PEOPLE, ALTHOUGH
I DON'T HAVE A HEARD DATA SET,
IN THE LAST 20 YEARS IS NOT
FUNCTIONING AS WELL AS THE LAST
40 OR 60 YEARS.
SO WHEN WE DECIDE WHEN TO
REPLACE SEWERS, WE FREQUENTLY
USE AGE AS THE MEASURE OF
REPLACEMENT, SO 100-YEAR-OLD
SEWERS, 80-YEAR-OLD SEWERS,
WHATEVER, HAVE TO BE REPLACED.
I WOULD SAY IN THE LAST 20
YEARS, SOME OF THOSE SEWERS ARE
STARTING TO FALL APART, AND THE
WAY WE'RE PUTTING IN THOSE
PRIVATE-SIDE LATERALS, THE PIPE
FROM YOUR HOUSE, I WOULD SAY
THEY ARE BUILT TO LAST 10 OR 20
YEARS.
IF YOU BUY A HOUSE WITH A
75-YEAR LIFE, YOU'VE GOT A SEWER
LATERAL THAT MAYBE WILL LAST 10
OR 20 YEARS, AND THEN YOU'RE
GOING TO HAVE A BREAKAGE PROBLEM
OR A FLOODING PROBLEM OR
WHATEVER.
SO THIS IS A BIG, IMPORTANT
PROBLEM.

Steve says I WONDER IF JUST THE
HOUSING INDUSTRY HAS BEEN SO
BOOMING HERE FOR THE LAST, WELL,
10, 20 YEARS I GUESS IN
PARTICULAR, THAT THEY JUST WANT
TO GET THESE HOUSES UP SO QUICKLY.

Barbara says AND GET OUT.

Steve says AND MOVE ALONG.
BECAUSE THE DEMAND IS SO
FEROCIOUS, RIGHT?

Barbara says SURE, SURE.
MY ISSUE WITH THIS IS THE
DEVELOPERS MAKE A PROFIT FROM
THEIR DEVELOPMENT, AND THEY WALK
AWAY WITH THEIR PROFIT AND, YOU
KNOW, DO THEIR THING, OBVIOUSLY.
BUT THE MUNICIPALITY, AND
ACTUALLY THE TAXPAYERS, ARE LEFT
HOLDING THE BAG FOR... BECAUSE
TAXPAYERS PAY FOR THAT.
SO WE PAY RATES FOR OUR SEWER
SYSTEM.
I PAY 3 dollars 05 PER METRE CUBED FOR
SEWAGE IN KITCHENER WATERLOO.
ALL OF THAT EXTRA WATER JUST
GOES ON MY SEWAGE BILL, AND NO
RESIDENT WOULD BE AWARE THAT
DEVELOPERS ARE LEAVING LEAKY
SEWERS IN THE GROUND, GOING AWAY
AND THEN THE RESIDENTS ARE
PAYING FOR THE NEXT 75 YEARS.

Steve says MORE ACUTE INSPECTION
ON THE FRONT END WOULD HELP US A
LOT ON THE BACK END.

Barbara says YES, ABSOLUTELY.

Steve says GOTCHA.
THANK YOU FOR THIS.

Barbara says THANK YOU, STEVE.
MUCH APPRECIATED.

The caption changes to "Producer: Katie O'Connor, @KA_OConnor."

Steve says THAT'S BARBARA
ROBINSON, PRESIDENT OF NORTON
ENGINEERING.
APPRECIATE YOU MAKING THE TRIP
IN FROM KW FOR US.

The caption changes to "Subscribe to The Agenda Podcast: tvo.org/theagenda."

Barbara says THANK YOU SO MUCH, STEVE.

Watch: Ontario's Leaky Sewer Problem