A small number of Toronto homes have still not complied with the City’s directive on mandatory downspout disconnection. Homeowners cite various reasons for not doing so including the financial cost, but the major argument is that they simply don’t see the point. It’s generally viewed as yet another attempt on behalf of the municipal authorities to enforce pointless regulations in residential plumbing.
Top Ontario environmental lawyer Dianne Saxe says there are some very good reasons for the directive, and she explains them in detail.
Reason #1: Downspouts Lead into Sewers
Most residential downspouts lead directly into municipal sewers, including storm drains, sanitation sewers or combination sewers. The Toronto sewer system is aging, and in older parts of the City the pipes are generally incapable of accepting these quantities of wastewater. This causes the sewers to be overwhelmed and raw sewage is washed directly into lakes and rivers, resulting in the pollution of beaches and the destruction of fish and wildlife. It also often ends up damaging the plumbing infrastructure, resulting in the need for expensive drain repairs.
Reason #2: Basement Flooding is Endemic in Toronto
Toronto has an ongoing problem with basement flooding, and whenever a severe storm hits there are homeowners who experience anew what it’s like to be helpless against rising water. Overloaded sewers are one of the major causes of flooding, which results in the growth of mould that affects the value and stability of a home. It also causes potential health problems and impacts the homeowner’s eligibility for insurance cover.
When residential plumbing is installed in new homes, the installations typically include the necessary backflow prevention valves and sump pumps needed to handle the load, and of course the downspouts aren’t connected. In existing homes, however, this is a primary area of concern for the City authorities.
Reason #3: Climate Change is Making Things Worse
One result of climate change is that the anticipated frequency of a storm (called the “return period”) is increasing, adding to the load the downspouts and ultimately the sewers have to handle. Between 2000 and 2005, Ontarians experienced 10 storms that were all more severe than the typical 100-year storm, according to a 2009 report from Conservation Ontario. This suggests that the 50-year storms of today will be 20-year storms by 2050, indicating that the situation isn’t getting any better.
The City’s plan is to enforce mandatory downspout disconnection over the next five years starting with the central area, which has a high number of combined sewers.
Reason #4: Flooding Costs a Fortune
Residential plumbing issues such as basement flooding and overflowing sewers isn’t just expensive for the homeowner and the insurance companies. The City’s efforts to reduce flooding also costs huge amounts of money, with municipalities facing hundreds of millions in capital costs to implement work that could take the next 20 years.
By comparison, downspout disconnection is inexpensive and delivers an immediate reduction in the problem, as well as lowering the operating costs for plants where wastewater is treated. It also offers the added benefit that it should help to reduce property taxes for homeowners in the long term.
Reason #5: It Delivers Results
Downspout disconnection has been proved to show results. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation believes that the average disconnection results in diverting around 100,000 litres of water away from the sewers each year.
In a pilot study in Markham, the process caused a reduction of approximately 50 percent in the quantity of wastewater that required treatment. These are significant numbers when multiplied by the number of homes across the GTA that still have connected downspouts as part of their residential plumbing system.
If you’re a homeowner living with a connected downspout, get it attended to before it becomes a problem. The City offers financial assistance as part of its mandatory disconnection program, or you can apply for an exemption from the directive if you need to. The cost to the homeowner is negligible compared with the costs associated with flooding, such as insurance deductibles and higher premiums.