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East York people, places, events & insights

SEEING GREEN 027: World Water Day March 22 will focus on wastewater

Seeing GreenWorld Water Day is held annually to focus on the importance of freshwater management and the sustainable development of water resources.

The occasion falls in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal #6 —clean water and sanitation— adopted by UN member states in 2015. It was first proposed by the UN Environment and Development Conference in 1992 and designated by the United Nations General Assembly for March 22, 1993. This provides us with an opportunity to use the World Water Day resources and take action on water issues.

UN-Water coordinates the World Water Day campaign and proposes the theme. This year the theme, “Wastewater”, highlights the connection between water and wastewater and encourages us to see wastewater as a valuable resource in the circular economy and the quest for sustainable development.

Washing your car at home sends wastewater into sewers, unlike professional car washes, which recycle their water. -STOCK

Washing your car at home sends wastewater into sewers, unlike professional car washes, which recycle their water. -STOCK

Globally 80% of the wastewater produced by society is returned untreated to the water source, and millions die annually of water related diseases. The Sustainable Development Goal for 2030 is to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase reuse and recycling.

Wastewater’s safe management should be seen as an efficient investment in the health of humans and ecosystems. Treated properly it can be reused for energy, nutrients and safe water for irrigation. It is an opportunity to provide green jobs and a strong economy.

Historically, Toronto went through a difficult time with a continuous series of cholera and typhoid fever epidemics throughout the 19th and into the 20th century from untreated wastewater. Cholera epidemics took place in 1832, 1834, 1849, 1854, 1866 and typhoid epidemics in 1845, 1847, 1893, and 1910. Walter Massey of Dentonia Park in East York died of typhoid fever in 1901 —ironically after he introduced pasteurization of milk to reduce its incidence from this source.

Mr Shine 027Privies were leaching contaminants into wells and the dumping of industrial waste and animal carcasses into our rivers and lake was common into the 20th century. Through a series of efforts by the city we slowly moved toward clean water and sanitation. By 1881 safe piped water was available for the city from the Island Water Filtration Plant, eliminating the need for wells. Petitions by citizens in 1884 lead to a by-law to abolish privies, but the last residential privy was still found in Kensington in 1945, as Wayne Reeve, City of Toronto cultural historian, has uncovered in his research. (And probably even later in farm country.)

Chlorine disinfection was introduced in 1912 and the sewage treatment plant at Coxwell and Eastern Avenue began operation in 1913. The Toronto Water Works Extension Project was initiated in 1926 to include the new Harris filtration and pumping plant at Victoria Park and Neville Park. Gradually, we cleaned up our act and we now feel safe drinking our water. Splash n Shine 018

Yet, even today in Toronto, we still have the problem of untreated sewage entering our rivers and Lake Ontario from combined sewers that overflow during heavy rainfalls, making our lakes unsafe for swimming. We are still working on separating sewers as part of our Wastewater Management Plan.

Lake Ontario Waterkeepers and Ecologics are two organizations that are keeping water issues on the forefront of our attention. To find out more information about them or World Water Day check: or

The week following Water Day, there is also a five-night festival of films about water’s importance and care taking place March 29 – April 2 at two downtown locations. The film on the opening night, “Fashion’s Deep Water Impacts” is free of charge, with the event taking place 6-10 pm at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at 525 Bloor St. W. For full lineup and more details visit .

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