Town in Newfoundland & Labrador fined $50,000 for illegal discharges into river

The Town of Baie Verte recently pleaded guilty to two offences under the Canadian Fisheries Act in the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in Grand Falls-Windsor, and was ordered to pay a total fine of $50,000.

The offences relate to the discharge of water containing elevated levels of chlorine from the town’s potable-water system into the Baie Verte River. The first offence relates to the release of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish; the second, to a failure to comply with a Fisheries Act direction that ordered the town to take action to remedy the situation or prevent future occurrences.

In August 2017, following a report that chlorinated water was being discharged from the town’s potable-water system into the Baie Verte River, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers conducted an onsite inspection and took field measurements, which confirmed that the chlorinated water was deposited into the river. On September 5, 2017, officers collected water samples for laboratory analysis. The analysis confirmed that the chlorinated water was a deleterious substance, as defined by the Fisheries Act. Consequently, enforcement officers initiated a formal investigation.

In September 2017, officers issued a Fisheries Act direction, which required the Town of Baie Verte to take all reasonable measures to prevent the deposit or to counteract, mitigate, or remedy any adverse effects that result from the deposit of the deleterious substance into the Baie Verte River. The town was also required to provide a written report documenting the measures taken to comply with the direction.

Fisheries Act direction is a compliance tool that may be issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Enforcement Branch, when there is a deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish or when there is a serious and imminent danger of such an incident and immediate action is necessary. For example, a direction may be issued to compel a person who has the charge, management, or control of either a deleterious substance or an activity resulting in a deposit or the danger of a deposit to take remedial or preventative action.

Between November 8, 2017, and May 23, 2018, enforcement officers conducted field measurements and collected additional water samples for analysis. Each time, the chlorine concentration detected in the samples was in the range of 120 to 6000 times higher than the recommended limits under the guidelines established by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

The Town of Baie Verte failed to comply with the direction and was consequently charged with committing an offence under paragraph 40(3)(g) of the Fisheries Act. In addition, the town was charged for contravening subsection 36(3) by depositing a deleterious substance into the Baie Verte River.

As a result of this conviction, the Town of Baie Verte will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

Although chlorine is frequently used in wastewater treatment and drinking-water systems, high concentrations of chlorine and chlorine residuals can be deleterious to fish. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life establishes 0.5 µg/L as the recommended limit for chlorine.