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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. The Region then collects, 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 protect the environment and 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 microfiltration and reverse-osmosis wastewater treatment technology to turn wastewater into purified, clean water. Treated water will either flow into:

  • The East Holland River, over time helping to restore the river’s health and quality, or;
  • After further review and regulatory approval, will be recycled and sent to water reuse approved sites for potential irrigation, helping to reduce our draw on freshwater resources and the amount of phosphorus entering the lake

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

1. A Water Reclamation Centre  containing leading-edge treatment technology in the Town of East Gwillimbury.

2. A Total Phosphorus Off-setting Program to further remove phosphorus from other sources within the Lake Simcoe watershed.  This will support provincial initiatives to decrease phosphorus levels in the Lake Simcoe watershed and promote a healthier ecosystem.  

To achieve this, York Region proposes to retrofit several existing stormwater management ponds and use low-impact development technologies within the Lake Simcoe watershed to remove three kilograms of phosphorus for every one kilogram of additional phosphorus the Water Reclamation Centre discharges to the watershed above a threshold of 124 kilograms per year.

Note: In March 2018, the province issued a Declaration Order exempting the York Durham Sewage System forcemain twinning and pumping station modification work from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. As a result, this work is no longer part of Upper York Sewage Solutions Environmental Assessment project. Construction of the new sanitary sewer forcemains in the Town of Newmarket is scheduled to begin in 2019. The Region is still waiting for the Ministry’s final approval to proceed with the Water Reclamation Centre and the Project Specific Total Phosphorous Off-setting Program.

Location and Service Area

The proposed Water Reclamation Centre will be located in the Town of East Gwillimbury. It will treat wastewater from the Town of East Gwillimbury and a portion from the Town of Newmarket and Aurora.


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 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.

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Project timing: Where are we in the process?

Over four and a half years have passed since York Region submitted the final Environmental Assessment report to the Minister for approval in July 2014. The Minister’s decision was initially anticipated in February 2015 (according to legislated timelines set out in regulations to the Environmental Assessment Act).

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

Where we are in the process -  Approval timeline

  • 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, requesting 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 what became 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 Water Pollution Control Plant before being released to Lake Ontario
  • 2010 – 2014 – The Region conducted in-depth studies, a year-long technology demonstration project and significant consultation with stakeholders, residents, community groups, Indigenous peoples 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 existing Holland Landing sewage lagoons
  • 2014 (July) – The project’s Environmental Assessment report was submitted to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change for approval
  • 2016 (January) – Ministry staff complete their review and confirmed the Region had addressed all comments on the file and met all requirements for the Environmental Assessment
  • 2016 (October) – Ministry staff advise York Region they are in a position to make recommendations on the project to the Minister
  • 2016 (December) – Ministry staff met with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and told the Region that the province, in its role as the Crown, needed to complete its important legal duty to consult with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and advised this process would further delay an approval to proceed with the project
  • 2018 (March) – The Ministry issued a Declaration Order  to exempt the York Durham Sewage System forcemain twinning and pumping station modification work from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. As a result, this work is no longer part of Upper York Sewage Solutions Environmental Assessment project. Construction of the new sanitary sewer forcemains in the Town of Newmarket is scheduled to begin in 2019, while the Region awaits a decision on the approval of the Water Reclamation Centre and the Project Specific Total Phosphorous Off-setting Program.
  • 2018 (November) – York Region completed a Health Impact Assessment for the project, that did not identify any immediate health concerns to members of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.  The recommendations of the report are intended to build on the existing work completed for the project with a particular focus on furthering ongoing monitoring and research.  The Region is committed to implementing these recommendations.
  • 2019 – to date – York Region is still waiting on the Minister’s approval while the duty to consult process is completed by the province with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. The Region continues to volunteer its services in support of this process

Local municipal growth requires water and wastewater servicing. The continued delay in implementing this project is impacting planned employment and residential growth in Aurora, East Gwillimbury, and Newmarket, and is creating financial impacts to the Region and its communities.

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,  on June 26, 2014, Regional Council approved advancing detailed design while waiting for Ministry approval of the Environmental Assessment.  In order to move quickly once a decision has been made, the following has been completed:

The Region's efforts to advnace project

The Region is facing significant delay in implementing the Upper York Sewage Solutions project while waiting for completion of the duty to consult process and project approval.

According to the legislated timelines set out in the Environmental Assessment Act for Environmental Assessments, the Minister’s decision on the Upper York Sewage Solutions project was anticipated in February 2015 and the Water Reclamation Centre was projected to be built and operating by 2019.

A revised schedule for completing the project is dependent on the province’s:

  • Completion of the duty to consult process
  • Approval of the Upper York Sewage Solutions Environmental Assessment 

Once the Environmental Assessment is approved, the Region will hold public information sessions in the communities impacted by construction to discuss construction timing and details in advance of work beginning.  Further engagement with Indigenous peoples will also occur.

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

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

Explore the project website for full details.

Quick Consultation Facts:

  • The 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 Indigenous peoples organizations were consulted through group meetings, individual meetings and written correspondence
  • The 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
  • Dialogue with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and other review agencies about the project has continued beyond the required regulatory period  and continues today
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What are the benefits of the project?

There are several benefits:

  • Wastewater capacity The Upper York Sewage Solutions project will provide needed wastewater servicing, while providing future options to recycle treated wastewater through reclaimed water applications
  • 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 clean, treated water that will help improve the water quality and habitat of  the East Holland River. Treated water coming from the Centre, after future review and regulatory approval, 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 York Region 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
  • Meets Lake Simcoe Protection Plan requirements while solving critical infrastructure needs
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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 membrane filtration and reverse-osmosis to  provide additional  treatment  at the facility. The water flowing out of the Water Reclamation 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, the Region will be the first municipality in Canada to adopt leading-edge reverse osmosis technology in wastewater treatment to convert wastewater into clean treated water.

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What is an Environmental Assessment?

The Environmental Assessment process used for the Upper York Sewage Solutions project   involves 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 provincial approval including the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The Upper York Sewage Solutions project is an Environmental Assessment that took the Region more than five years of extensive scientific study and consultation with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders. After all of this work was complete, a final Environmental Assessment report was formally submitted to the province for approval on July 25, 2014.

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?

Very very low concentrations of substances, including medicines and personal care products, have likely been present in water for decades.  However, the presence has only been identified more recently due to advances in laboratory equipment that are now able to measure trace concentrations down to parts per trillion or even smaller.  A part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.

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

Scientific research is ongoing, with no clear relationships established between the low levels of medicines detected in water and adverse effects to human health.  The World Health Organization reports that “trace quantities of pharmaceuticals in drinking water are unlikely to pose risks to human health because of the substantial margin of exposure safety between concentrations detected and the concentrations likely to evoke a pharmacological effect.”

We all have a part to play in reducing levels of pharmaceuticals in water.  Be a water hero and take unused medications and vitamins back to a pharmacy or to a York Region Household Hazardous Waste Depot for safe disposal. 

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 to our health?

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 trace concentrations and someone would have to drink 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?

Medicines and personal care products will be largely removed from wastewater through conventional biological treatment processes. In addition, scientific studies demonstrate that reverse osmosis is one of the most effective treatment methods to remove many medicines and personal care products, following membrane filtration systems. The proposed Water Reclamation Centre is the first facility in Canada to employ both of these advanced technologies (in addition to the conventional biological treatment technology) and will be among the  best for removing medicines and personal care products in North America.

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What are the wastewater treatment processes on Lake Simcoe?

  1. The first step (preliminary treatment) removes debris and larger particles from wastewater.
  2. The second step (secondary treatment) uses microbes and biological reactions to break down and remove organic matter.
  3. Some wastewater facilities on Lake Simcoe go a step further to treat wastewater by doing a third step (tertiary treatment). This step removes substances using fine filtering (such as sand bed filtration and membrane filtration) before disinfecting the clean, treated water with ultra-violet light to destroy disease-causing microorganisms before it is returned to the watershed. 

The Region’s Keswick, Mount Albert, Schomberg and Sutton Water Resource Recovery Facilities (wastewater treatment plants) use tertiary treatment before returning treated water back to Lake Simcoe.



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

In March 2013, York Region’s award-winning Keswick Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) was the first municipal wastewater treatment plant in Ontario to use membrane filtration and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technology for wastewater treatment.

  • York Region has been using membrane technology at the Keswick WRRF to achieve the most stringent effluent compliance levels for phosphorus of any wastewater treatment plant in Ontario since 2013
  • In 2017, York Region performed a one year demonstration using the newest membrane filtration system (which is also the same treatment technology selected for the proposed Water Reclamation Centre), alongside the existing Keswick WRRF membranes
  • The results of the demonstration exceeded all stringent performance criteria throughout the one year study period

In addition to the latest membrane technology tested at the Keswick WRRF, the proposed Water Reclamation Centre is will also use leading-edge reverse-osmosis treatment technology – an even higher degree of treatment technology.

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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 with the addition of:

  • Enhanced biological treatment
  • Additional primary treatment stages
  • Cloth-disc filtration
  • Reverse–osmosis capabilities before the ultra-violet disinfection process

All of these steps will allow for a greater degree of wastewater treatment, resulting in cleaner treated water going back to Lake Simcoe.

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Is treated water from Lake Simcoe safe to drink?

Yes it is. One York Region municipality (the Town of Georgina) and many other municipalities and communities outside of the region rely on Lake Simcoe as a drinking water source. Like York Region, other municipalities are regulated by the provincial government and treat the lake’s raw water at water treatment plants and do not have drinking water quality issues or concerns.

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What is effluent?

After wastewater has finished treatment, the final product (clear treated water) is called effluent.  After treatment, effluent leaves the treatment facility and flows 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. 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.

The proposed Water Reclamation Centre would  manage phosphorus levels produced through the wastewater treatment process. By using  advanced wastewater treatment processes and implementing the Total Phosphorus Off-setting Program the Upper York Sewage Solutions project meets the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan requirements for phosphorus management.

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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 (e.g. irrigation and industrial uses). Recycling our water, or using reclaimed water, is an environmentally friendly way to reduce our demand on fresh water resources.

Although the province has allowed some small scale reclaimed water irrigation projects, current regulations make it difficult to use and distribute water recycled from municipal wastewater sources. If the Upper York Sewage Solutions project is approved, the Region will work with the province to:

  • Further explore how reclaimed water can be used as a resource
  • Seek approval to reuse the highly treated water from the Water Reclamation Centre

How is York Region using reclaimed water today?

In early 2017, York Region retained an academic research team to understand how reclaimed water was being used to irrigate non-food crops around the world and in Canada. The Region then engaged stakeholders and developed a detailed plan for phase two;  the Water Reuse Research Demonstration Project.

In 2018, the Region launched its pilot project using reclaimed water from the Mount Albert Water Resource Recovery Facility to irrigate a test plot of sod (i.e. grass) at a farm in the Town of Georgina for the entire growing season. Throughout the year the team sampled the grass and evaluated the quality of  the reclaimed water, and its effects on the plant’s health and soil properties. This research project is being conducted by Black and Veatch Canada in collaboration with Soil Resource Group (the academic research team lead), the University of Waterloo, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Thanks to additional 2019 funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, research on the effects of using reclaimed water on plants has been expanded to include perennial flowers and seed germination trials. The research project will continue for the 2019 growing season, followed by a detailed analysis of the results and recommendations. Results will help York Region better understand the technical, regulatory and environmental implications of using highly treated wastewater for irrigation purposes.

The Water Reuse Research Demonstration Project is anticipated to end in 2020. For more information about this project, please email wateris@york.ca.
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Will the Holland Landing lagoons remain in operation when the Water Reclamation Centre up and running?

The decommissioning of the Holland Landing lagoons depends on provincial  approval of the Upper York Sewage Solutions Environmental Assessment. If the Upper York Sewage Solutions project is approved, the province will approve decommissioning the lagoons and transferring the operating permit to the Water Reclamation Centre once the Water Reclamation Centre 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 upperyork@york.ca

Updated on May 16, 2019




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