Wastewater Update, 2008

Article compiled by Jerry Behnke, Treasurer, LMCA
February, 2008

The issue of disposal of waste water has become a concern here on Lake Matinenda. The Lake Matinenda Cottage Assoc (LMCA), has been active with this issue and taken the following steps:

  1. Passed a motion (unanimously) at the 2006 annual meeting that the LMCA support the effort of APH Officer Beth Wood in enforcing the Ontario Building Code (OBC) as it applies to waste water disposal. Beth reported that only 30 of the 200 cottages had permitted systems.
  2. LMCA has joined the Ontario Lake Partners Water Monitoring program and sent in water samples annually since 2004. These results are available online at www.ene.gov.on.ca.
  3. Has collected water samples at the most populated areas of the lake and sent them to a private lab for E. coli and coliform testing. These results have been collected and reported by Dick Brennan. The coliform and E. coli numbers were higher than we would have liked in populated areas.
  4. Has escorted a 2007 Algoma Public Health summer student Andrew Ludgate, who conducted a partial survey of waste water systems on the most populated sections of the lake. Hopefully this inspection system can be continued in 2008.
  5. Encouraged cottagers to examine their own properties for signs of stress like spongy-wet areas, unpleasant odors, floating blue-green algae, increased weed growth, decrease in water clarity. Encouraged cottagers to use less water and phosphate free, biodegradable products.
  6. Encouraged the cottagers to contact one of the licensed installers on the lake for an evaluation. This service is available free of charge.

Biodegradable matter is organic matter that can be decomposed by bacteria to a form that will
not create a foul odor or annoyance.

What is a BIOMAT? Or a septic drainfield biomat layer?

The biomat is a bacteria layer which forms in soil below and around drainfield trenches or beds where septic effluent or wastewater is discharged. This layer is critical in the processing of fine biological solids and pathogens which are in the effluent, and without it, the septic system would not be adequately treating the effluent. Inadequately treated effluent released into the ground risks contamination of nearby lakes, ponds, wells, streams, etc. Septic effluent or wastewater, is discharged into a soil absorption system (SAS) or field bed from the septic tank, which retains all large solids. The job of the SAS is to further treat the effluent to reduce the level of biological solids and pathogens to a level acceptable for further movement of the liquid into remaining soils. Inadequate treatment of effluent would mean that sewage and pathogens would be discharged into and contaminate nearby ground water.

We are hearing the following questions about the disposal of grey water and the need for a filter bed or filter trenches to purify the waste water.

  1. Why put the grey water through a filter bed . . . it ends up back in the lake anyway. What does the sand do anyway?
  2. I use biodegradable, phosphate free soap and detergent, so I do not need to treat the grey water further; there are no pollutants to worry about entering the lake.
  3. What are the pollutants in grey water and what does a field bed do to remove them?

Dick Brennan, M. Eng (chem). Was able to find the following answers for us. For a place to start, the sand provides an extended contact time and lots of surface area (for the microbes that digest the organic material) to live and do their work. The same reactions may happen once the wastewater is diluted in the lake, but not at nearly the above reaction rate. (Concentration is a critical value in determining reaction rate.) So, if you want a particular reaction to happen (the digestion of a surfactant molecule for example), you want to have a maximum time and exposure to the microbes to get the job done. Once the “pollutants” reach the lake, everything slows way, way down because of the decreased concentration and lack of microbial availability. In addition, the result of biological degradation in the water source itself can be detrimental to the water body (i.e. loss of soluble oxygen). So, the strategy is to remove most the “oxygen demand” from the waste by exposing the waste water to active microbes and sufficient oxygen before such waste can be diluted in the water resource. If a number of waste streams with oxygen demands entered the water source at once, then the soluble oxygen concentrations will drop and normal life cycles in the water will suffer.


Grey water contains numerous bacteria that may include disease-causing organisms. Care should be taken to ensure there is no possibility of connecting grey water to the drinking water supply, or of people coming into direct contact with grey water. Grey water also contains a number of pollutants including organic matter, nutrients, salts and detergents. These pollutants can damage the environment if gray water is not recycled responsibly. So, for a start, the Ministry of Health regulations prohibits the discharge of gray water wastes without treatment because of health risks and the risk of source water pollution. Secondly, there is a volume/quantity issue. If an individual discharges waste into a body of water like Lake Matinenda, it is no big deal. If two hundred cottages do the same thing, over time, it is a different story.

I believe that three points need to be made here:

The first is that Lake Matinenda receives ALL run off from discharge streams from cottages and lodges on the lake. Waste water, treated or untreated, ends up in the lake. In this situation, we are not talking about any appreciable time or distance to “soak in” and degrade in arid soil. Secondly, we are concerned about the LONG TERM condition of the environment. Such waste streams can (and will) accumulate in Matinenda (because the concentration is low after dilution, so the reaction rate is also low). I believe that the policy that is now Provincial law was developed because of the experience and conditions observed over 50 – 100 years on more populated water bodies. Thirdly, very few of the residents on the lake have access to a ground water aquifer (a well) for their potable water resource. In short, almost all of us use lake water (treated, I hope) for our potable water needs.

MacDonald’s Bay West 19 4
MacDonald’s Bay East 58 12
Sullivan’s Bay 65 2
Teachers’ Bay 58 2

Coliform bacteria are typically found in all surface water samples as a result of wildlife both in the water and run off. E. Coli, on the other hand, is almost exclusively the result of inadequate containment/treatment of human waste and is most often a point source.

The above values are not high enough to represent a health risk to cottagers’ recreation (swimming for example), but they are disturbing. The data implies that sewage is making its way into the Lake Matinenda without adequate treatment (direct run off or septic systems that are not up to code), and more importantly illustrates the absolute necessity of purifying our drinking water. Chlorinating, ultraviolet light and microfiltration are three methods to effectively generate potable water. Please use the effective method of your choice. And if you have an old, inadequate septic system, even if it is seldom used, upgrade to code or remove it. Remember that most of us share the same “well”.

(end of comments by Dick Brennan)

Another frequently asked question around the lake is :

What is an “appropriate system?”

“If there are no health issues with the present systems – sewage disposal, gray water , whatever – from the health department, then it is a simple inference that Mother Nature is doing her proper thing, correctly. She has done so for thousands and millions of years with natural processes and without extra, man-made gadgets. Just because someone didn’t have a permit approval for grandfathered systems, outhouses, (no permit required) or what ever reasons, doesn’t mean that the system is polluting the lake. There seems to be an attempt to try and “citify” a recently found (annexed) “outback” with a “black top” of waste water systems for every property.” An appropriate system is a system in compliance with the Minimum Standards of the Ontario Building Code, or one that will prove to work the same as.

There are no known public health issues YET, but there are issues with phosphates… increased plant life is evident along with increase blue-green algae, and outbreaks of the bloom and dominate when nutrient levels particularly the levels of phosphorus is elevated, which is potentially toxic. If swallowed it can cause diarrhea, nausea, cramps, fainting, numbness, dizziness, tingling and paralysis. Skin contact can cause rashes or irritation. Children and pets are at greatest risk. Toxins cannot be removed with filtration, boiling or chemical treatments. Mother Nature was doing her best until people installed pressurized water, kitchen sinks, bathroom showers and sinks and flush toilets. There are few pails of water sitting by the dish pan, or a kettle of hot water on the wood stove. There were no flowers or vegetable gardens growing around their primitive little cabins, no seeded green lawns or fertilizers!

An appropriate system depends on the sewage flows of a building and the existing soils… 1000 L/day and over require a Class 4, or Black water, as you call it according to O.B.C. An appropriate system must handle the maximum possible sewage produced by a residence for one day… the number of days use is not a factor.

Most people from the city do not need to be concerned with waste water disposal, they simply flush the toilet or pull the plug and the municipality looks after the problem. To “citify” the situation here on Lake Matinenda would be to dump the waste water on the ground and think that “Mother Nature will look after the problem as she has been doing for hundreds and millions of years” as referred to above. The environmental consequences of such irresponsible action has been explained above, with more details below.

Do we know anything about Source Water Protection and just how vital it is to Human Health and Ecosystem Health?

Source Water: untreated water from streams, lakes, wells. Source water comes from one of two sources: surface water or groundwater.

Human Health: Toxic substances on the ground could eventually get into our source water. Benzene that is found in Gas can cause Aplastic Anemia. Think how many times have we spill a bit of gas in the lake or on the ground ? E. coli in the water from human and animal waste can cause Walkerton type problems.

Ecosystem Health: is a biological community consisting of interacting organisms and their surrounding physical environment. Ecosystems have four main components: air, water, land and living creatures including us. Each component of an ecosystem performs/contributes to a unique function upon which all life depends. When ecosystems become degraded, this has a negative impact on water.

Economic Health: There are cost associated with protecting water sources, they are investments that serve to protect the Lake and your lakeside property investment.

It’s not up to the Algoma Public Health to select an approved method of waste water disposal for you. It is A.P.H.’s job to do enforcements, plans reviews and inspections, not to interfere with designs, suggestions, opinions or sketches of any sort to do with an application for a sewage system. The design of a system has to be made by the individual property owner, qualified designer or a qualified installer. It would be a conflict of interest for APH to design and then approve a waste water system.

Administrative Requirements for Maintenance Inspections

In response to the events in Walkerton of 2000, the Government of Ontario appointed a public inquiry, which resulted in Justice Dennis O’Connor’s report in 2002. The report concluded that drinking water should be protected at its source through a coordinated planning process. Among other matters, improperly installed and poorly maintained septic systems were identified as a potential threat to drinking water.

In response to Justice O’Connor’s report, the government introduced the Clean Water Act, 2006, which was proclaimed in force on July 3, 2007. This legislation permits communities to protect their municipal drinking water supplies by creating multi-stakeholder committees that are required to develop collaborative, locally driven, science-based protection plans. These committees will identify potential risks to local water sources and identify actions to be taken to reduce or eliminate these risks.

The Clean Water Act, 2006 included complimentary amendments to the Building Code Act 1992, concerning maintenance inspection programs for on-site sewage systems. These amendments authorize regulations to establish programs to enforce the Building Code’s standards for the maintenance and operation of existing sewage systems, and to require that these programs be enforced by principal authorities. (Health Unit, Municipality)

It is proposed that required maintenance inspection programs would apply to sewage systems located in prescribed areas. These areas are anticipated to be a subset of the “vulnerable areas” identified in an assessment report included in a source protection plan subject to posting on the environmental registry in accordance with Section 30 of Clean Water Act, 2006. The method of delineating these areas will be set out in future technical rules under the Clean Water Act, 2006. Questions related to the Clean Water Act, 2006 and source protection plans can be directed to:

“Ask the Expert” at source.protection@ontario.ca
Source Protection Programs Branch
Ministry of the Environment
8th Floor, 2 St Clair Ave W
Toronto, ON, M4V1L5

The amendments to the Building Code Act, 1992 also authorize principal authorities to establish “discretionary” maintenance inspection programs for existing sewage systems. These programs would be subject to provisions under the Building Code.

Let’s all work together to improve the quality of water on the Lake.

Article compiled by Jerry Behnke, Treasurer, LMCA