- The mayor says there was no other option to complete needed repairs
- A local environmental group says people are outraged over the dumping
Mayor Denis Coderre said he understands that the discharge is not a popular move.
"If we had other options, we would have taken them, but we had no other option," he said at a news conference Tuesday, hours before the work began.
City officials are warning residents not to swim in or otherwise come in direct contact with the river as the operation is underway, and to avoid flushing diapers, wipes, sanitary napkins and other foreign objects down their toilets -- items they're not supposed to be flushing anyway.
The city says it's taking several precautions to make sure the river, its banks and its wildlife suffer no lasting harm.
Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna asked city officials to visually monitor the discharge and clean up anything that accumulates from it, to put in place a backup plan in case any unexpected industrial spills happen at the same time, and to conduct regular testing of the water quality in the river until next year.
But some residents aren't optimistic that everything will go well.
"The citizen outrage over #flushgate has been overwhelming in recent days -- and despite reassurances from the Canadian federal and provincial governments, the people seem unconvinced that this activity is safe for the River," a group called Save the River said on its Facebook page
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The city is building five new wastewater retention basins and will replace many rusted pipes and other aging infrastructure during the project, according to Richard Fontaine, the city's director of wastewater treatment.
It will also install an ozonation system by 2018 that will better clean the water and kill viruses and bacteria, Coderre said.
The St. Lawrence River runs nearly 750 miles from the Great Lakes through Montreal and Quebec City before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.