Environment Minister Peter Kent made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference in Delta, B.C.
"We want water that is clean, safe and plentiful for future generations of Canadians to enjoy," he said.
"Through these regulations, we are addressing one of the largest sources of pollution in our waters. We've set the country’s first national standards for sewage treatment. These standards will reduce the levels of harmful substances deposited to surface water from wastewater systems in Canada."
Under the new rules, it will no longer be good enough for municipalities to use only primary treatment, in which solids that float or sink are removed.
Municipalities will now be required to perform secondary treatment, where dissolved organic material is removed as well.
Sewage treatment facilities will have a period to comply — 10, 20 or 30 years depending on whether the facility is considered a high, medium, or low risk in terms of the pollution it’s putting out.
Environmental groups have criticized this timeline in the past, but Kent says the projects are too large to be moved along any faster.
According to Kent, the government estimates roughly 75 per cent of municipalities are already in compliance with the new rules, and the remaining 25 per cent must upgrade to at least secondary wastewater treatment.
The new rules mean upgrades will be required at two facilities in Metro Vancouver — the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant in North Vancouver and the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Richmond. The cost of the upgrades is estimated at $1.4 billion.
Kent acknowledged the total costs to municipalities would run into the billions, but said the federal government is providing municipalities with infrastructure funding and they are free to use that money to pay for wastewater upgrades.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says it welcomes the new regulations, but the group is calling on Ottawa to create a national funding program to pay for the wastewater upgrades.