08/05/2015 13:37 EDT | Updated 08/05/2016 01:12 EDT

Toronto told to tell public when untreated sewage sent into Lake Ontario

TORONTO — The City of Toronto will soon have to start telling the public when it is forced to send untreated sewage into Lake Ontario.

The Ministry of the Environment concluded the public should be told when raw sewage is sent into the lake after a complaint from the non-profit organization Lake Ontario Waterkeeper under the province's environmental bill of rights.

Waterkeeper founder Mark Mattson says heavy rains can overwhelm Toronto's old sewer system, forcing the city to bypass treatment plants and send raw sewage into Lake Ontario.

The untreated water poses health risks, and Mattson says people should have access to the latest water quality information as they plan their outings on Lake Ontario.

The city of Kingston has been issuing such notices for years because of the many islands in the area that do not have water treatment facilities, and other Ontario communities are considering the idea.

Mattson says there is growing pressure on the Liberal government to enact one provincial standard for notifying the public about water quality problems.

New York state recently enacted "right to know" legislation so the public must be informed within four hours of any raw sewage sent into Lake Ontario or other waterways.

"It's a growing trend and it's an important trend," Mattson said in an interview. "It's certainly helping to inform the public and give them confidence about when the water is clean and when they should stay away from it."

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The Canadian Press