In October 2017, Canadian Water Network, with financial backing from Environment and Climate Change Canada, appointed an expert panel to conduct a national review of contaminants in municipal wastewater. The panel’s findings are now available in a new report, Canada’s Challenges and Opportunities to Address Contaminants in Wastewater, which will be presented to municipal water leaders at Blue Cities 2018.

“Wastewater management is critical to all Canadians,” says Dr. Donald Mavinic, expert panel chair and Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia. “Over the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in contaminants in wastewater which can have adverse effects on public and environmental health.”

In the past, Canada’s wastewater systems were designed to treat human organic waste. However, as the wastes generated by our society have increased in complexity, so have the challenges of dealing with them. Pathogens, nutrients, metals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics are some of the known and emerging contaminants of concern found in our wastewaters. The expert panel was tasked with assessing which contaminants are priorities, whether treatment options are available, and the trade-offs and opportunities involved.

Across the country, wastewater treatment is highly varied, reflecting more than a century of solutions developed in response to different geographic settings. Communities along coastlines, on the prairies, or in remote Northern locations have different needs, and the panel says that designing community-based solutions remains key. However, there is currently no national system in place to collect and share this information with municipalities or to share research results and innovation.

The panel notes that keeping contaminants out of municipal systems through source control is more effective than trying to remove them from wastewater. They provide a blueprint for action with seven recommendations, including the need for an integrated watershed approach that is risk-based and informed by environmental monitoring. The blueprint also suggests government incentives to encourage communities to go beyond minimum standards, accelerate research and technology transfer, and favour solutions with meaningful co-benefits.

“We need to make smart and strategic investments in wastewater management now — not 20 to 30 years from now. Canada should be investing in more research, community-based solutions and innovation. When there are additional benefits to gain such as reducing greenhouse gases, it’s a win-win situation.”

During their six months of deliberation, the panel consulted with other experts across Canada, gathered case studies and scanned the literature in key areas of relevance. For a summary of their key findings, as well as the full report in both official languages, visit

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Media Contact
Liana Kreamer, Communications Manager, Canadian Water Network

**Panelists, including a francophone speaker, are available for interview.**

Quick Facts

Canadian Water Network is Canada’s trusted broker of research insights for the water sector. When decision makers ask, ‘What does the science say about this?’ they frame what is known and unknown in a way that usefully informs the choices being made.

National Expert Panel on Contaminants in Wastewater:

Donald Mavinic, Expert Panel Chair and Professor, Civil Engineering, University of British Columbia

Susheel Arora, Director of Wastewater and Stormwater Services, Halifax Water

Cecelia Brooks, Director of Research and Indigenous Knowledge, Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn and Water Grandmother, Canadian Rivers Institute

Yves Comeau, Professor, Civil, Geological & Mining Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal

Mike Darbyshire, General Manager, Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission

Karen Kidd, Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health, McMaster University

Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association

Mark Servos, Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection, University of Waterloo

Canada’s Challenges and Opportunities to Address Contaminants in Wastewater was led by Canadian Water Network, with a $400,000 contribution from Environment and Climate Change Canada. A national expert panel was appointed to consider:

  • Which contaminants do we need to worry about most?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • What are the opportunities and tradeoffs involved?

Report synopsis:

Effective management of our wastewater is critical to all Canadians. The advances that Canada has made in wastewater management is an important success story in protecting human health and the environment. The challenge moving forward is to meet the growing complexity of wastes generated by our society. Canada must consider how to make strategic investments that maximize the benefits to society and the environment and prepare our wastewater systems to address the uncertainties of the future.


Blueprint for action:

Seven actions are recommended to the federal government:

  1. Continue to apply and further develop risk-based approaches
  2. Improve access to data on wastewater treatment across Canada
  3. Incentivize and reward innovation to go beyond minimum standards
  4. Support site-specific approaches based on receiving water quality objectives
  5. Implement watershed-based approaches
  6. Better coordinate research, technology transfer and practice insights
  7. Require a future-ready strategic planning document as a condition for funding

Blue Cities 2018 panel presentation:

  • The expert panelists will highlight their findings in a presentation to municipal water leaders at a national water conference on May 1. For more information about this event, visit