The release says the city began clean-up of sewer overflow tanks that had discharged untreated wastewater into Chedoke Creek on July 18, 2018.
“Hamilton City Council takes this matter very seriously and today is sharing additional information that has become available based on the City’s investigations,” the city said in its statement released Wednesday afternoon.
City crews discovered that one of its combined overflow tanks had been compromised, and over the past year, they’ve been working with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to investigate the incident and advise on remediating Chedoke Creek.
An investigation determined that a bypass gate in the sewer overflow tank that should have been closed, was open on Jan. 28, 2014. The open gate was noticed and closed July 18, 2018, resulting in a flow of discharge into the river for a period of 4.5 years.
Investigators say they have not yet determined why the bypass gate was open.
The city says the discharge was a combination of stormwater runoff and sanitary sewage.
The 24 billion litres of discharge into Chedoke Creek represents approximately four per cent of the annual volume of flow to Hamilton’s wastewater treatment plants, according to the city.
The release goes on to say the quality of water in the affected area improved within weeks of stopping the flow of discharge, including a dramatic decrease in E.coli levels and dissipation of odour.
The City also says it completed surface cleaning and the removal “floatable material” near the creek in the summer of 2018.
Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, told Global News she’s “shocked” that the event went on as long as it did.
“That really raises a lot of concerns in my mind around how frequently and how closely the city looks at the system,” said Lukasik.
“This isn’t the only combined sewer overflow tank in the city. And so I certainly hope, moving forward, that the city is going to develop a rigorous way to track and make sure that we don’t see something as horrible as this ever happened again.”
Lukasik says combined overflow tanks in the older part of the city, like Chedoke Creek, fill up during storm events mixing run-off water and sewage which flows into the natural environment.
She also speculates that runoff could have been getting into Cootes Paradise, and into Hamilton Harbour contributing to an algae problem the city has had in recent months.
“You know, makes me wonder, was this part of what was fueling some of the algae blooms that we’ve been seeing out in the harbour over the past couple of years? It’s definitely not a good scenario.”
In light of the incident, the city says it’s taken a number of actions toward addressing the discharge including:
• enhanced inspections of all combined sewer overflow facilities and an inventory of all critical valves and control points
• a review of spill response procedures
• posting of warning signs at Chedoke Creek to avoid contact with the water which will remain in place indefinitely
• retaining external consultants to review the environmental impacts of the discharge.
In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of the Environment confirmed the city reported the discharge to the ministry’s spills action centre on July 18, 2018.
“On Aug. 2, 2018 we ordered the city to among other things, quantify the amount of sewage and what was in the sewage discharged to the creek,” Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said.
“While the City submitted information to the ministry as required by the order, we issued a second order on Nov. 14, 2019 requiring clarification and confirmation of impacts, recommendations for remediation, mitigation and monitoring.”
Wheeler also confirmed an investigation from the ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) is underway.
When asked about potential legal action and/or fines against the city, Wheeler said “it would be inappropriate to provide any additional comment.”
Chris McLaughlin, from the Bay Area Restoration Council – the group that monitors Hamilton’s harbour remedial action plan, was also surprised the leakage went on for as long as it did.
“We’re really anxious to get our hands on the on the ministry’s investigation into exactly what went wrong,” McLaughlin told Global News.
“But we’ll be more interested, I think, in the city’s response to all of this moving forward in the things that they put in place.”
McLaughlin also says it’s a real public relations “tragedy” for the city as it makes promoting the city’s current remedial action in the harbour “a whole lot steeper.”
“I think it will prove to be a really signature event in the history of remediation,” McLaughlin said, “A real tragedy for the city from a PR standpoint, for all of us involved in the remedial action plan, all of us who care deeply about trying to change public perceptions of the harbour.”