Longueuil must find $1 billion to meet its water needs
“We have to make sure that people go to be able to have water at the end of their tap,” warns Mayor Catherine Fournier, as the City expects strong growth in its population over the next 40 years.
Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier appeals for financial assistance from the Quebec government.
Longueuil fears it will not meet the demand for water if it continues its development without quickly upgrading and expanding its outdated infrastructure, internal documents obtained by Radio-Canada reveal. The agglomeration is already approaching the limits of its capacity, both for the supply of drinking water and the management of wastewater.
The first concern concerns the drinking water plant on rue Châteauguay which serves Vieux-Longueuil. Dating from 1942, it has a very high risk of failure, according to the Quebec government. Its emergency reserves are at the limit. If a break causes a stoppage of water production, its autonomy is seven hours.
The two other plants in the agglomeration could fill part of supply, but they themselves are already in high demand. In total, the factories are at 83% of their capacity. That of Vieux-Longueuil, the smallest, is at 92%. However, it is in this sector that we anticipate the strongest population growth.
The drinking water plant on rue Châteauguay, in Vieux-Longueuil, dates from 1942 and has reached its useful life .
One of the documents from the water management department of the City of Longueuil reveals that the drinking water capacity of this plant, located on Châteauguay Street, should be increased by 72% from 32,000 m3 to 55,000 m3. A larger reconstruction is necessary and work should start next year.
The challenge also arises for the water going to the sewers. The wastewater treatment plant is “at the end of its capacity” and must expand by 21%, in addition to meeting new regulatory requirements such as disinfection of wastewater returned to the river.
“This is a titanic project to be carried out with a tight schedule. […] By 2061, more than 77,000 new dwellings are expected on the territory of the agglomeration, which represents a population increase of approximately 170,000 people (39%). »
— Document from the Water Management Department of the City of Longueuil
We learned that during the summer, the sewage treatment plant, located on Charron Island, received so much sludge that it almost overflowed and to pollute the river. The mayor, fearing a major environmental risk, had to dip into her discretionary fund to release money quickly to treat this sludge in a modular unit.
The Rive-Sud Wastewater Treatment Center, located on Île Charron, purifies wastewater from the cities of Boucherville, Brossard, Longueuil and Saint-Lambert, but not Saint-Bruno.
This is a major challenge in the coming years, explains Mayor Catherine Fournier, in an interview, in a context where cities have an obligation to densify and build to meet the housing shortage.< /p>
She confirms that, if Longueuil develops the neighborhood around the metro without upgrading its drinking water plant, there will not be enough water for everyone.
“We must increase the supply of housing on our territory, but at the same time, we have infrastructures, in particular for the production of drinking water, which are not adapted to such great growth in the population in the coming years. So, before embarking on large projects, […] we have the responsibility to ensure that people will be able to have water at the end of their tap. »
— Catherine Fournier, Mayor of Longueuil
Excerpt from a document from the Direction de la gestion of the waters of Longueuil
One of the documents mentions insufficient emergency reserves in Vieux-Longueuil and insufficient capacity to serve future development.
In a second document, the water management service details the associated risks: the reduction in the level of service which may affect the flow rates available in the event of an emergency or fire, operational issues especially during periods of strong demands, increasingly frequent pressure drops affecting service to citizens, especially during peak periods, more frequent watering bans and even in the absence of a heat wave, etc.
The Longueuil agglomeration includes the cities of Longueuil, Brossard, Boucherville, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville and Saint-Lambert, or 435,000 residents.
A first estimate by the City, in 2020, had put the need for investment in water infrastructure at $600 million by 2030. But with inflation and continued degradation , the bill looks even higher.
“With the progress of the studies in progress and the evolution of the construction market, we anticipate that this amount will exceed one billion…”
— Document from the Water Management Department of the City of Longueuil
According to the document, another factor will contribute to increasing costs: The three major cities of the metropolitan area [ Montreal, Laval and Longueuil] will be under construction at the same time, raising fears that the market will overheat.
It is impossible for a city to finance 100% of the cost of this infrastructure, explains the mayor. To pay these staggering costs, it is requesting rapid and special assistance through a decree from the Government of Quebec.
If the City does not obtain financial support, it densification should be slowed down, warns Catherine Fournier, or else a special tax should be imposed, but this is not among the options considered so far.
Work on the new downtown Longueuil has already begun with two new towers under construction.
Why not just stop developing Longueuil? We have no choice but to add more people to meet our densification objectives and meet the needs of the growing Quebec population, replies Catherine Fournier. We have a major housing shortage.
The Quebec government's PRIMEAU and FIMEAU financial assistance programs are aimed at municipalities to rehabilitate or improve their drinking and wastewater infrastructure, but in Longueuil, water management is limited. agglomeration competence. However, the request must be made one municipality at a time, indicates the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing of Quebec.
Nobody understands the agglomeration of Longueuil, including the ministry, laments Catherine Fournier. The same complexity arises with the federal government, she said. The City believes it needs access to “more money”, with “fewer constraints”.
The Mayor of Longueuil Catherine Fournier, with Quebec Premier François Legault, in February 2022.
Several cities will have to bring their water treatment plants up to standard by 2030. The Quebec government estimates that $14 billion is needed to replace water assets at high or very high risk of failure.
Questioned on Monday about the possibility of paying for certain municipalities in need, the head of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) François Legault replied that “it's on a case-by-case basis”.
“Municipalities that don't have the tax base to pay millions, we're the ones who are going to pay. Municipalities that make new developments, so that will have new revenues, they will have to use their new revenues to pay for drinking water.
—François Legault, outgoing Premier of Quebec
François Legault, leader of the Coalition avenir Québec
According to a study by HEC Montréal and the Environment Network, it will take 49 billion dollars to invest over 25 years to catch up on these drinking water and wastewater assets.
If we do nothing, there will be a lot more breakage, a lot more leaks and these repairs entail costs, explains the co-author of the study, the professor in the Department of Applied Economics at HEC Justin Leroux.
According to him, investing in the modernization of water infrastructure pays off, with even greater benefits than the sums spent.
There would be avoided costs for municipalities, but also benefits for the environment (wastewater would be better managed) and for human health (better quality water).
“For every dollar invested, we have $1.72 in profit. And even if health and environmental benefits are excluded, the return on investment is estimated at $1.18 per dollar spent on water infrastructure. It pays for itself over time. »
— Justin Leroux, professor at HEC Montréal, co-author of the study Estimating the return on investment for water infrastructure in Quebec
Water utilities should not be at the mercy of a government's political choices, says the professor, without commenting on the political parties that are proposing tax cuts during the current election campaign. /p>
Drinking water, there is nothing more important than that, believes the mayor of Longueuil. On September 1, Catherine Fournier called all the candidates for the elections in the ridings of the territory of Longueuil to raise their awareness of this issue, mainly.
Location of the three drinking water plants and the city's supply system.
Longueuil has been unlucky with its water in recent years. In 2015, a broken generator pipe caused diesel pollution in drinking water. Thousands of bottles of water had to be distributed to citizens for two days.
The City is also responsible for several spills in the river in recent years. It would even have the worst record, according to the Rivières Foundation.
Last year, the mayor encouraged citizens to reduce their water consumption during one of these episodes. Since the spring, the City has reduced watering periods to two hours a day, twice a week.
In the urban area, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville has even hired private security guards to monitor violators who face fines of up to $1,000. Since mid-June, nine warnings and eight statements of offense have been issued.