Ontario orders Hamilton sampling program, with deadlines, in response to recent sewer problems

Work crews on scene at Rutherford & Myrtle Avenues in Hamilton fixing an improper sewer connection that's caused sewage to leak into Hamilton Harbour for the past 26 years. Global News

Ontario has issued orders to the City of Hamilton demanding an extensive sampling program in response to misconnected sewers discovered on Burlington Street and Rutherford Avenue.

A notice from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) gives the city four deadlines to complete eight parts of an inspection program.

First is an early February deadline to hire qualified workers to carry out the province’s orders followed by a mid-March due date to develop a storm and surface water sampling program identifying the nature of discharges into the environment.

The city’s water and wastewater staff will also have to come up with recommendations and the feasibility of undertaking an ongoing “risk-based inspection” program by mid-May, and then submit a final standard operating procedure by the end of June.

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Nick Winters, director of Hamilton Water, says his initial interpretation of the order is the province is seeking an evaluation of different inspection methods for the sewer system to determine whether or not there are more misconnected sewers.

“They would like us to compare and contrast those different methods and identify pros, cons, costs, timelines, things like that, and … what we as the utility operators think is the best way to move forward,” Winters told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today.

The order is in response to a wastewater connection issue at Burlington and Wentworth streets in which some 337 million litres of combined sewage and stormwater was expelled into the city’s harbour over 26 years.

Repair work and realignment of the sewer were completed in late November at a cost of around $30,000.

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Environment minister David Piccini conveyed his “anger” over the discovery days later in the legislature at Queen’s Park, characterizing the find as “absolutely unacceptable.”

MECP spokesperson Gary Wheeler told Global News that same week that a “comprehensive assessment” would be bestowed on the city via a “significant undertaking” that could be a “multi-year initiative.”

The city also had to correct a similar issue in an area around Rutherford and Myrtle Avenues in early January, costing some $37,000 after a CCTV inspection, vacuuming costs, excavation, sewer realignment and road repair.

In Wednesday’s order to the city, senior MECP officer Tyler Kelly outlined a journal of multiple trips to Hamilton collecting samples and undertaking dialogue with city staff pertaining to inspections and corrections.

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He characterized both the Burlington and Rutherford spills as “not authorized” since discharges often happened during “dry weather flow” and not during storm-related conditions.

Winters is confident the city will be able to comply with the asks but says execution of the inspection program to identify further issues is “not something that’s going to happen overnight” due to the size of the city’s system.

“So the big question to me and my team is, how do we accelerate that and make sure that we’re doing work in a way that’s going to be as effective … as quick as possible, and at the lowest cost to our ratepayers,” Winters said.

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