The Regional Municipality Of York


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Upper York Sewage Solutions

Protecting water is important to all of us. York Region provides clean, safe drinking water to nearly 50,000 homes and business around Lake Simcoe. York Region then cleans and returns treated water back to the environment where it came from. Through careful monitoring, constant testing and investment in infrastructure to service our growing communities, York Region continues to be a leader in managing our precious water sources.

What is the Upper York Sewage Solutions Project?

Once approved, York Region will be the first municipality in Canada to adopt leading-edge, advanced wastewater treatment technology that will produce water cleaner than existing water from local lakes and rivers.

To accomplish this, the proposed Upper York Sewage Solutions Project includes:

  1. A new Water Reclamation Centre (Centre) to produce clean, treated water that will flow into the East Holland River; and reclaimed water for proposed water re-use applications such as sod and tree farms. Using reclaimed water for applications like these would reduce demand on surface and groundwater resources.
  1. Modifications to the existing York Durham Sewage System (YDSS) with twinning of the wastewater forcemain through the Town of Newmarket. This will provide system reliability, reducing the risk of sewage spills.
  1. A project specific total phosphorus offsetting program, which will remove phosphorus from other sources within the Lake Simcoe watershed.  This will support initiatives to decrease phosphorus levels in the watershed and promote a healthier ecosystem.  

The total phosphorus offsetting program was developed to ensure there will be a net reduction in total phosphorus to the East Holland River related to the operation of the new system.  In order to achieve this, York Region will remove three kilograms of phosphorus for every one kilogram of additional phosphorus that the centre discharges to the watershed. We will do this by retrofitting existing stormwater management ponds and using low-impact development technologies to reduce the level of phosphorus entering the Lake Simcoe watershed.

Location and Service Area

The proposed Water Reclamation Centre will be located in the Town of East Gwillimbury. It will treat wastewater from the towns of East Gwillimbury and a portion of Newmarket which have planned growth of approximately 150,000 residents and jobs by 2031. Once operational, it will send treated clean water to the East Holland River.

Frequently Asked Questions

Project history: Why does York Region need this project?

The purpose of the Upper York Sewage Solutions project is to provide sewage servicing to accommodate the planned employment and community growth of approximately 153,000 residents and employees in the Towns of Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury. All of these communities are located within the Lake Simcoe watershed.

The Upper York Sewage Solutions project will enable the Region to provide timely wastewater services now and through to the year 2031 while contributing significant environmental benefits.

Below is a snapshot of the project’s history and evolution of the Lake Simcoe-based solution:

  • 2009 – York Region began working on The Upper York Sewage Solutions project

  • 2010 (March) – The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change approved the project’s Terms of Reference with an amendment and requested the Region consider the “development and use of wastewater purification system and water recycling facilities to be located in The Regional Municipality of York.”  This meant researching a new Water Reclamation Centre with advanced wastewater treatment technologies that met the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, versus building a new Regional trunk sewer which would send wastewater through the Oak Ridges Moraine to be treated at the Duffin Creek Plant before being released out to Lake Ontario

  • 2010 – 2014 - The Region did extensive scientific study and consultation with stakeholders, residents, community groups, First Nations, Métis and regulating agencies while developing a Lake Simcoe-based solution that was feasible and compliant with the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan as a replacement for the Holland Landing Sewage Lagoons

  • 2014 (July) – The project’s Individual Environmental Assessment report was submitted to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change for approval

  • 2016 (fall) – The Ministry completed its review and confirmed the Region had addressed all comments on the file and met all requirements for the Individual Environmental Assessment
  • 2016 (December) - Ministry staff met with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and told the Region that the province, as the Crown, needed to complete its Crown’s legal Duty to Consult obligations with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and advised this process would further delay the Ministry in making a decision on if the project could proceed
  • 2016 – to date – York Region is still waiting on the Minister’s approval while the Ministry completes its Duty to Consult obligations on the project proposal with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. The Region continues to volunteer its services in supporting the Ministry and Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in their discussions
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Project timing: Where are we in the process?

Over three and a half years have passed since York Region submitted the final Individual Environmental Assessment report to the Minister for approval. The Minister’s decision was initially anticipated in February 2015 (according to legislated timelines set out in regulations to the Environmental Assessment Act).

After the Individual Environmental Assessment report was submitted, the Ministry identified that further discussions between the Province and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation were needed for the Province to satisfy its duty to consult with the First Nation. While continuing to review the requirements and fulfillment of their duty to consult, the Ministry has forewarned the Region that the provincial duty to consult process could delay future approval of the Individual Environmental Assessment .

The continued delay in implementing this project is creating financial impacts to the Region and its communities, in addition to risks to public health and the environment in the event of a sewage spill or surcharge in local collection systems due to either a sewer break or high-flow conditions.

The Region has expressed the urgency of completing the sewer forcemain twinning work to the Ministry many times. Approval deadline
The figure above provides a chronological graphic of the provincial environmental assessment and approval processes from commencement to date.

Detailed design and property acquisition work continues on the Upper York Sewage Solutions project while awaiting approval.

Knowing the risks of not completing the project, during a Council meeting on June 26, 2014, Council approved advancing the detailed design while waiting for Individual Environmental Assessment approval.  In order to move quickly once a decision has been made by the Ministry, the following has been completed:

Efforts to advance project work and mitigate risks due to approval delay

The Region is facing a two-year delay in implementing the Upper York Sewage Solutions project.

Timing for completing the work is dependent on approval of the Upper York Sewage Solutions Individual Environmental Assessment. Given it is now 2018 and other environmental permits and approvals are required to proceed, construction completion dates for the sewer forcemain component in Newmarket have been revised to 2021 based on the expectation that Minister approval will be received in early 2019.

Once the Individual Environmental Assessment has been approved by the Ministry, the Region will hold public information sessions in Newmarket and East Gwillimbury to discuss construction timing and details in advance of any major work beginning.  Further consultation with Indigenous peoples will also occur.

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During the Individual Environmental Assessment phase, who has York Region consulted with?

York Region had considerable consultation with the community, review agencies (i.e. the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority), First Nations, Métis organizations, and the general public throughout the project’s Environmental Assessment process. York Region received input at 10 key decision-making milestones within seven consultation rounds.

Explore the project website for full details.

Quick Consultation Facts:

  • York Region used a variety of consultation methods to consult with the public including: community and individual meetings; public meetings, which included public information forums, workshops, drop-in Tuesdays at a local storefront project office, open houses; and maintained a project office and project website
  • Over 1,850 members of the public were involved, including property owners, residents, ratepayer groups, environmental organizations, and businesses
  • Fourteen First Nations and two Métis Organizations were consulted through group meetings and written correspondence
  • York Region consulted with a total of 36 review agencies, including federal and provincial agencies, conservation authorities, local municipalities, and utilities. The Region also met with 19 of those agencies a total of 64 times 
  • Over 820 people attended the project’s nine public meetings between May 2010 and January 2014
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What are the benefits of the project?

There are several benefits. The UYSS project will provide needed wastewater servicing, while providing options to recycle treated wastewater through reclaimed water applications.

Benefits of the Water Reclamation Centre in the Town of East Gwillimbury

  • One of a kind facility - Once operational, the Water Reclamation Centre will be more than a conventional wastewater treatment plant. Having advanced treatment technologies, such as microfiltration and reverse osmosis, the facility will convert wastewater into treated clean water that will help improve the water quality in the East Holland River. Treated water coming from the Centre can also be used for future water reuse applications such as sod and tree farms, helping reduce the amount of surface water and groundwater used by industry. These proposed treatment technologies were successfully demonstrated in a one-year pilot project.

  • Smart, ecofriendly design - Blending into the community, the Centre will feature unique design elements that respect and balance the community and nature. The facility will house an education centre, on-site lab, a research facility and a connection to a network of trails and footpaths around the site for residents and visitors to access year round.

Benefits of the York Durham Sewage System (YDSS) modifications in the Town of Newmarket

In Newmarket, the new sanitary sewers and modifications to two sewage pumping stations will add capacity to the existing network and provide reliable sewer service for the community. By “twinning” the main sewer (part of the existing York Durham Sewage System), the system will always be operational should one sewer break, experience a clog or undergo routine maintenance work. This project will:

  • Protect the environment and community from untreated sewage overflows and backups into natural water courses or potentially residential homes during high flow conditions in Newmarket caused by heavy rain or pipe problems (i.e. clogs, breaks, etc.)
  • Provide servicing for planned growth
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What is the proposed technology?

On top of conventional wastewater treatment technologies used today, the proposed Water Reclamation Centre will use proven advanced treatment technologies such as microfiltration and reverse osmosis to highly treat wastewater flowing through the facility. The water flowing out of the Centre and into the East Holland River will be cleaner than the current river water quality today, helping improve the health of the watershed. Once approved, York Region will be the first municipality in Canada to adopt leading-edge reverse osmosis technology in wastewater treatment to convert wastewater into treated clean water.

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What is an Individual Environmental Assessment?

Individual Environmental Assessments (IEA) are extensive studies and reports prepared for large-scale, complex projects with the potential for significant environmental effects. Before these projects can move into the construction phase, they require approval from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, including sign-off from the Minister.

Learn more about the Individual Environmental Assessment Process.

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What about medicine and personal care products In the water?

I have heard about medicine (pharmaceuticals) in the water. Should I be concerned?

Trace substances, including medicines and personal care products, have likely been present in water for decades, but only identified in the last 10 years due to advances in analytical machines that are now able to measure trace concentrations in parts per trillion or even smaller – that is equivalent to one-half drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Concentrations of medicines and personal care products are typically very low (parts per trillion) and likely represent low risk to human and ecological health. 

No clear relationships have been established between the low levels of medicines detected in water and adverse effects in humans and wildlife, studies are ongoing.

Be a water hero! Help us spread the word on how to properly dispose of unused medicines and vitamins

What are medicines and personal care products (PPCPs)?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, they are defined as: “any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock. PPCPs [pharmaceuticals and personal care products] comprise a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances and cosmetics.”

Are medicines and personal care products in the water a threat?

The federal and provincial governments currently do not consider medicines and personal care products to be a human health threat in our waters because they have only been found in minute concentrations and it would take the consumption of millions of litres of water to receive any significant concentration approaching a typical dose of medicine.

Can medicines and personal care products be removed from wastewater?

Scientific studies demonstrate that reverse osmosis is the most effective treatment method to remove medicines and personal care products, following microfiltration systems. The proposed Water Reclamation Centre is the first facility to employ both of these technologies and will have the best removal of medicines and personal care products in Canada.

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What are the wastewater treatment processes on Lake Simcoe?

The first step (preliminary treatment) removes debris and larger particles from wastewater. The second step (secondary treatment) uses microbes and biological reactions to break down and remove organic matter. Some wastewater facilities on Lake Simcoe go a step further to treat wastewater (i.e. tertiary treatment).

The third step (tertiary treatment) removes substances using very fine filtering (such as membrane filtration) before disinfecting the treated water with ultra-violet light to destroy disease-causing microorganisms before the clean treated water is returned to the watershed.  Today both the Keswick and Sutton Water Resource Recovery Facilities owned and operated by York Region use tertiary treatment before returning treated water back to Lake Simcoe.

How is wastewater treated at the Keswick Water Resource Recovery Facility on Lake Simcoe?

In March 2017, York Region’s award-winning Keswick Water Resource Recovery Facility was the first municipal wastewater treatment plant in Ontario to use membrane filtration technology for wastewater treatment.

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How will the proposed treatment at the Water Reclamation Centre differ from conventional wastewater treatment?

The treatment process will be similar to the Keswick Water Resource Recovery Facility except there will be an additional stage of treatment, reverse osmosis, before the ultra-violet disinfection process. This will allow for a greater degree of wastewater treatment.

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Is treated water from Lake Simcoe safe to drink?

One York Region municipality (the Town of Georgina) and many other cities and towns outside of the Region rely on Lake Simcoe as a drinking water source, treating the lake’s raw water at water treatment plants and do not have water quality issues or concerns.

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What is effluent?

Effluent is treated wastewater that flows out of a wastewater treatment plant and back into the environment.

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What is phosphorus?

Phosphorus occurs naturally in the environment and is an essential nutrient needed by plants and animals. Phosphorus is a nutrient, so high levels in a lake encourage the growth of plants and algae. Although some phosphorus is required to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem, too much phosphorus leads to excessive growth of plants and algae in a lake. As these plants decay, dissolved oxygen required by fish and other aquatic species is depleted.

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What is reclaimed water?

Reclaimed water is wastewater that has gone through various treatment processes to meet specific water quality criteria with the intent of being used again in a beneficial manner (i.e. irrigation and industrial uses). Recycling our water, or using reclaimed water, is an environmentally friendly way to reduce our demand on surface water and groundwater. Applications of reclaimed water will be regulated by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

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Will the Holland Landing Water Pollution Control Plant remain in operation when the Water Reclamation Centre is built?

The decommissioning of the Holland Landing lagoons continues to rest on the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change approval of the Upper York Sewage Solutions Individual Environmental Assessment. If the Upper York Sewage Solutions project is approved, the Ministry will approve decommissioning the lagoons and the operating permit will be transferred to the Water Reclamation Centre once it is built, tested and ready to operate.

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For more information on the Upper York Sewage Solutions Project, please contact 1-877-464-9675 or

Updated on February 15, 2018

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