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NDP crapshooters

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Two words I hadn’t heard in my life until this spring? Sewage ejectors.

Those two words got plenty of attention this session at the Manitoba legislature, almost as much as "deficit" and "Bipole."

For anyone living outside the Perimeter Highway on a rural property, these two words have become part of their daily vocabulary.

Not because it’s a fascinating topic on its own, but because the Selinger government wanted to ban them outright across the province to protect water quality, particularly in the Red River Valley.

It sounded great to the environmental crowd, but the NDP’s ban angered folks who live nowhere near the Red River or Lake Winnipeg.

The proposed rules said if a property with a sewage ejector changed hands the owner must first replace their ejector system with a septic field.

What’s a sewage ejector? It’s a simple system to treat household wastewater for thousands of home owners. An ejector "shoots" effluent a distance away from a home’s holding tank where it lies on top of the ground to be treated by sunlight. The liquid evaporates and remaining solids are absorbed through natural filtration. Solid waste in the holding tank is pumped out and trucked away as needed.

No one argues sewage ejectors should be removed from fragile waterways, prone to flooding or high run-off.

The argument, made loud and clear by the Progressive Conservatives, is that a provincial ban was unreasonable as it would place an unfair cost of thousands of dollars on responsible people who rely on sewage ejectors to treat wastewater from their homes. The Tories had no issue removing the ejectors in parks and Crown lands and some of the Red River valley.

The Tories also said in many cases septic fields are no better than sewage ejectors mostly because of soil conditions and groundwater, which today is as high as it’s ever been in some parts because of the recent rain.

Arthur-Virden PC MLA Larry Maguire lobbied hard for Manitoba Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie to back down, along with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and Keystone Agriculture Producers.

"It was using a sledge hammer to kill an ant," Maguire said of the province’s ejectors phase-out plan. "There was no science behind it."

The result of the Tory lobbying?

Blaikie blinked.

On May 31 the province amended its sewage ejector rules:

"Rural homeowners considering transferring or subdividing a property may now apply to the province to retain an existing sewage ejector following property transfer or subdivision, provided the sewage ejector is:

• not located within an environmentally sensitive area,
• located on a minimum of 10 acres, and
• in compliance with all other regulatory requirements.

The NDP also said homeowners selling their property may also apply to transfer the responsibility of phasing out an ejector to the new homeowner, or to extend the time available for the phase-out. The new requirements have no impact on any property owner who is not transferring or subdividing.

A low-interest loan program is also being developed by the province for those who have to replace their sewage ejector systems for property transfer or subdivision.

More information on the ejector phase-out is available at Manitoba Conservation offices and at:

So score one for the Tories.

"We put together as big a lobby as I’ve ever seen," Maguire said, first elected in 1999. "It’s always a plus when you can get the government to back down from what they wanted to do."

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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