Quebec City snow dumps get failing grades on environmental report card

Quebec City needs to invest $2.5 million if it wants to bring its snow dumps up to code, according to a report commissioned by the city.

Seven of the city's ten sites need to be refurbished to meet standards set by the Ministry of Environment, as well as the city's own regulations.

The worst culprit is the Jonquière site, located at the corner of Wilfrid-Hamel Boulevard and Saint-Sacrement Avenue, only 200 metres away from the St-Charles River.

The dump is filled with pieces of metal that fell from rusty cars, plastics and other garbage picked up by snow plows.

Olivier Lemieux/Radio-Canada

The crumbling infrastructure at the Jonquière site means sand, gravel and garbage seep into the river according to Stantec, the engineering firm who wrote the report/

While the ministry and the city's regulations limit the number of particles to 30 milligrams per litre (mg/l), the Jonquière site showed an average of 81 mg/l from 2012 to 2016, at times climbing to 580 mg/l.

The levels at the other sites aren't as high, but Stantec estimates it will cost $2.5 million to refurbish the entire infrastructure, $1.2 million solely for the Jonquière snow dump.

Long-standing problem

Opposition councillor Jean Rousseau said the obsolete infrastructures were highlighted in the auditor-general's report in 2012, who traced back some of the issues to 2005.

"It's more of the same. We just keep on doing what we've been doing all along," said Rousseau. 

A plan was put in place following the auditor-general's report, but was suspended in 2015.

Olivier Lemieux/Radio-Canada

Rousseau said it's ironic that the city has since invested time and money to promote the importance of preserving the region's water sources, like the St-Charles River.

"It's not a sexy topic when you talk about snow depots."

Not enough space

The 307-page report, obtained by Radio-Canada through an access-to-information request, also warned the city could run out of space if there's a repeat of the record-breaking winter of 2008.

A total of 558 centimetres of snow fell over the city that year, more than double the average from 2012 to 2017.

In all, 12.9 million metric cubes were packed into the sites in 2008. But with the closure of one of its sites in 2014, the city wouldn't have enough space to pull that off now, according to Stantec.

City councillor Jérémie Ernould, who is in charge of snow removal and road works for the executive committee, said the city could work around the problem by increasing the capacity of its sites.

"We wouldn't have any difficulty in storing the snow, we would just be working differently," he said.

'Nothing toxic'

The city suspended the work it had started in 2015 because it wanted a more accurate idea of the state of its snow dumps, Ernould said

Julia Page/CBC

"Most of the depots meet environmental standards and require minor work," said Ernould. The work will begin next year.

At the Jonquière site, Ernould said the particles released into the river could have long-term consequences. But he said there are no toxic chemicals being released.