The City of Hamilton says it has just discovered that sewage has been leaking into the Port of Hamilton for 26 years due to a hole in a combined waste pipe in the industrial sector.
It is unclear how much sewage has poured into the port.
But Nick Winters, director of Hamilton Water, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that “it’s going to be a large number,” adding that the city will publicly release the number as soon as it has it.
Carlyle Khan, general manager of public works, said Hamilton Water staff noticed something odd in the security camera footage. Winters said that led to the hole being discovered late Tuesday morning at the northeast corner of Wentworth Street North and Burlington Street East.
A preliminary investigation by staff finds they believe a consultant drilled the hole in the combined drain pipe in 1996, Winters said.
“It appears that the consultant involved in that work was under the impression that all sewers in that area were sewers and that they have engineered a direct connection to a culvert leading into Hamilton Harbour,” he said.
“The situation we’re describing to you today is something that shouldn’t have happened.”
What is affected by the sewage spill?
City staff said Hamilton residents’ drinking water was not affected by the newly discovered leak, but the spill will have impacted the port’s environment.
The runoff ends at a dock at the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority, Winters said.
About 50 homes are connected to this pipe, but he said the water used by those homes went into the lake.
Winters said staff are examining the amount of water used by each home to find out how much wastewater has ended up in the port.
He also said the leak is expected to be “significantly less” sewage than the 24 billion gallons of sewage that seeped into Chedoke Creek over four years, a leak the city is still working to clean up.
How did the leak go unnoticed for 26 years?
The stormwater outlet is always underwater, so a sewage spill wouldn’t be easy to detect and/or sample the water, Winters said.
He said the sewer is 2.5 meters wide and 2.5 meters deep.
Sampling from inside sewers is also not something that typically happens, Winters added, but the city has launched its surface water quality programme last year.
He said the Hamilton Water team was preparing to do more work and, while reviewing past records, they came across a video from a consultant from 2013 showing unusual activity.
This led them to investigate and uncover the leak 26 years ago.
What is the city doing about it?
Winters said staff contacted the Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) Spill Action Center at 12:20 pm ET Tuesday and reported it to the city’s spill reporting line.
There is also a vacuum truck at the site as a short-term way to stop the flow of sewage into the environment, according to Winters.
The city said area residents can expect to see many trucks and other vehicles nearby as staff work to fix the problem.
Winters said it’s unclear how many resources will be needed to fix the problem.
Mayor Andrea Horwath told reporters on Tuesday that she had asked the auditor to complete a review and issue a public report on what may have transpired.
MECP spokesman Gary Wheeler told CBC Hamilton the ministry has sent an environmental officer to the site to assess the situation, gather further information and ensure steps are taken to stop the flow of wastewater into the port.
“The ministry will evaluate the need to collect samples,” he said, adding that the province will stay abreast of the issue as it evolves.
Mayor, councilors concerned about spill
Horwath said his biggest concern is the impact of the spill on the environment.
“Like all of you, I’m concerned,” she said.
He also said Tuesday’s response to the leak is evidence the new city council is committed to transparency.
“It’s important for Hamiltonians to get information as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that he learned of the situation between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. He spoke to the media about the matter shortly after 5pm.
Ward 2 Count. Cameron Kroetsch tweeted that he was “deeply concerned about this and learned via email at 4:38pm”
“I’m glad this is being made public immediately. Water is life.”
Ward 13 Count. Alex Wilson tweeted that the city will soon vote on its water, wastewater, and stormwater budget — and it’s an opportunity to make a change.
“We have the opportunity to fund the maintenance, repair and remediation work needed to protect our waterways,” they wrote.
“I will move proposals to that effect in the coming weeks”.