Hamilton City, Ontario, discovers a 26-year-old sewage leak flowing into the Hamilton Harbour. The spillage happened near Burlington Street and Wentworth Street due to a hole placed by a contractor from a sewer line into a stormwater line in 1996.
Speaking to reporters, Nick Winters, Director of Hamilton Water, said, “It looks like the individuals involved in that project were mistakenly thinking that they were dealing with two storm sewers … Unfortunately, that’s not the case”. Adding that an incorrect illustration was provided to contractors, which led to a hole being made into a combined sewage pipe in 1996 (Rosas, 2022).
Global News reports the hole was discovered when Public Works staff were going through CCTV files and discovered a file made by a contractor in 2013 as part of a broader inspection program and filed in a city archive. They saw something in the video that led to staff going to the field, opening a manhole, and discovering the leak.
Around 50 houses are believed to be linked to the pipe. Residents living close to the area are unhappy that the spill has been unnoticed for too long. James Quinn, who has lived in the area for ten years, wanted some answers, like how the spill can happen for a long time and whether it is caused by neglect or incompetence (Rosas, 2022).
Damage to the environment
Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath’s statement said that while she is not yet aware of the total volume of sewage released, she was informed that it was substantial.
“I was assured that the nature of the spill makes the risk to human health very low,” she added.
City staff said Hamilton’s drinking water is not affected by the discovered leak but will impact the harbor’s environment.
CBC reports that to measure how much sewage water was spilled into the harbor; the city will base this on the water bills and the resident’s average water consumption of 200 liters per day.
Winters said the sewage leak into nearby Hamilton Harbour is a “trickle into a very large volume of water.” The city is still working to clean up 24 billion liters of sewage that leaked into Chedoke Creek between 2014 and 2018.
The Hamilton Harbour leak is minimal compared to the 24 billion liters of sewage spilling into Chedoke Creek between 2014 and 2018. For over four years, sewage and stormwater runoff was directed into Chedoke Creek and flowed to a nearby marsh undetected. Despite the creek waters turning putrid, residents were only told about the leak a year later.
With the Hamilton Harbour leak this time, the city promptly made the information public and let residents know how the city plans to fix the problem.
Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton’s executive director, praised the city’s “swift, public disclosure of the find” (Mitchell, 2022).
Mayor Horwath asked the city auditor to investigate what happened and provide a public report as soon as she heard about the problem.
Daily Commercial News reports that Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association executive director Patrick McManus said the breach not only highlights the mistakes by contractors and city staff in 1996 but put into question the inspection practices of the city.
“It certainly calls into question the inspection process and how we monitor the quality of our underground infrastructure,” McManus says.
“Most municipalities rely on age-based inspections rather than physical inspection, and this can occasionally be the result.”
“It’s why we advocated for more physical inspections, especially as the technology improves to make this more financially viable,” he adds.
Howarth said that the new city council is committed to being transparent and important that Hamiltonians receive the information as quickly as possible. She said she spoke to the media after learning about the problem.
CBC reports that City councilors also expressed concerns about the spill and the importance of transparency. Ward 2 Councillor Kroetsch expressed on social media, “I’m glad this is being made public immediately. Water is life.”
Another councilor, Alex Wilson, tweeted that the city will get to vote on the water, wastewater, and stormwater budget soon — and it’s a chance to make a change.
“We have an opportunity to fund the maintenance, repairs, and remediation work needed to protect our waterways,” they wrote.
The city will install a new pipe to fix the problem. According to CBC News, the pipe will direct sewage to the Western Sanitary Interceptor, a sanitary sewer under Burlington Street.
The article addresses the fraught question of how authorities know what is happening in buried assets networks. Good inspection, sign-off, and record systems are imperative, especially when something is missed, as with the case of Hamilton sewer leaks, to maintain open and transparent communication and public trust.
Rosas, A. (2022, November 24). City says faulty illustration may be partly to blame for 26-year sewage spill into Hamilton Harbour. CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/city-says-faulty-illustration-may-be-partly-to-blame-for-26-year-sewage-spill-into-hamilton-harbour-1.6662181
Wall, D. (2022, November 25). Hamilton must inspect entire sewage system: MOE. Daily Commercial News. Retrieved from https://canada.constructconnect.com/dcn/news/infrastructure/2022/11/hamilton-must-inspect-entire-sewage-system-moe
Mitchell, D. (2022, November 22). Hamilton says hole ‘made purposefully’ 26 years ago in sewer drained wastewater into harbour. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/9296665/hole-made-purposefully-26-years-sewer-drain-hamilton-harbour/
Hristova, B. (2022, November 22). City of Hamilton discovers 26-year leak of sewage into Hamilton Harbour. CBC. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/hamilton-sewage-leak-hamilton-harbour-1.6660676