Longueil's wastewater treatment network has, by far, the worst spill record in all of Quebec, according to a report from Fondation Rivieres.

According to a document obtained by The Canadian Press, the city on Montreal’s South Shore was ranked with a spill intensity index nearly four times greater than Laval, the second municipality on the list.

Fondation Rivieres recorded 60,660 spills in 2019. The results are based on 8.5 million provincial data points examined by UQAM journalism professor Jean-Hugues Roy.

Most of the time, spills happen after heavy rain, said André Bélanger, general manager of Fondation Rivieres. During a spill, feces, cigarette butts, sheets of paper, tampons, wipes, and a host of other solids that do not decompose, are flushed into rivers and lakes.

“Materials come out in almost solid blocks into the environment,'' said Bélanger. “And they go almost straight into the rivers.”

Longueil also ranks first in the list of large cities in order of intensity of spills per capita, with a record almost twice that of Trois-Rivieres, which takes second place.

Since the Longueil sewer network serves Boucherville, Brossard and Saint-Lambert, some of the overflowing structures, such as dikes, may be located on the territory of those municipalities.

The City of Longueil is "reading the report" and the calculations of the Fondation Rivières, said Alexandra Lapierre, spokesperson for Longueil Mayor Sylvie Parent.

Parent will not be available 'as long as' the data from the Fondation Rivieres has not been analyzed. The amount of time that will take was not specified. "We must do things in order," said Lapierre.

The intensity index is a calculation developed by the Fondation Rivieres which considers the size of the overflowing structures, the frequency of spills, and their duration. According to the organization, the Ministry of the Environment uses a similar tool internally since the volume of liters of water discharged is not measured.

Montreal made ninth place on the list, followed by Sherbrooke.

Montreal, which alone produces 45 per cent of all of Quebec's wastewater, is also planning to build a wastewater ozonation plant at a cost of half a billion dollars to disinfect its water. The current treatment plant is only able to remove large pieces of debris that fall into settling ponds. Viruses, bacteria, and drugs are still released into the river.

According to Bélanger, “when you look at the river from the air, what you have is a brown band that starts from Montreal and goes to Lac Saint-Pierre.” Bélanger said he’s excited for the new plant which he said could allow people to swim in the water from the north shore of the river to Trois-Rivieres.

In Montebello and Outaouais, the intensity index is the highest per inhabitant of all municipalities, and five times worse than in Longueuil. Bélanger said he doesn’t understand how that’s possible in a municipality of 983 inhabitants.

The Canadian Press was not able to reach the mayor of Montebello, Martin Deschenes, or the Minister of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change as of late Wednesday morning.

Bélanger said environmentalists feel like their concerns are being ignored. For elected officials, he said, “between building a gymnasium for the citizens or cleaning the sewers, the choice is quite easy.” 

-- This report was first published by the Canadian Press on Oct. 28, 2020 with reporting from the Local Journalism Initiative.