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  Ontario Farmer - March 23, 2004

Sierra Club campaigner says farmers bearing NM burden

While farmers face "cumbersome" laws, Municipal waste handling has not improved, she says

By Jeffrey Carter
SPECIAL to Ontario Farmer

   Government has hefted an inordinate amount of the burden for nutrient management onto the shoulders of farmers, says the water campaigner with the Sierra Club of Canada.
   At the same time. little has been done to improve the way Ontario's municipalities handle their wastes.
   Maureen Reilly says regulations under the Nutrient Management Act have even increased the amount of sewage sludge municipalities are allowed to spread by nearly three times ---from eight to 22 tonnes per hectare.
   The idea is to calculate, on paper, long-term averages so that the buildup of heavy metals can be managed.
   However, Reilly believes the approach is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of forward thinking when it comes to the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus being applied in these materials, she says. 
   "While farmers are being asked to complete these massive plans, no one (at the Ministry of Environment) could tell me how much nitrogen

and phosphorus is in the sewage sludge," Reilly says.   "It appears to be a piece of legislation that is cumbersome and onerous on the farmers but is very permissive for the sewage plants."
   One reason behind the tonnage rate increase for sewage sludge may be growing concerns with the agricultural community about material, Reilly says.
   In other words, there are fewer farmers willing to take the stuff and so more of it needs to be spread on a smaller land base.
   The government focus on farmers seems to be   connected with the

    Walkerton disaster, Reilly suggests. The disaster occurred after a virulent strain of E. coli contaminated the community's water system.
   "My thinking was that the province, especially the last regime, wanted to focus the mind of the public ..on the farmer and one individual," Reilly says.
   The Municipality of Brockton, which includes Walkerton, was ordered by the Ministry of Environment to fund a report on all probable causes of the disaster, Reilly says. Possibilities related to agriculture were considered but there was no effort to look at sewage sludge or septic waste --- and the MOE didn't insist on it.
   This lax attitude toward municipal waste continues today, even when problems arise, Reilly says.
   Governments had done little to address the spills and discharge of untreated and under-treated waste from municipal sewage plants.
   "If the province (was) really interested to protect water quality, they would ...bring them (the treatment plants) into line."