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Hamilton’s director of water hopes hole that dumped wastewater into harbour was an ‘anomaly’

Click to play video: 'Crews work to fix pipe causing wastewater leak in Hamilton harbour'
Crews work to fix pipe causing wastewater leak in Hamilton harbour
WATCH ABOVE: Crews were working on Wednesday to fix a sewage pipe responsible for leaking wastewater into the Hamilton harbour. Erica Vella reports.

A day after revealing a hole in a storm sewer has been dumping wastewater into Hamilton harbour for 26 years, the city’s top water man is characterizing the wrong connection as an “anomaly.”

In a follow-up to Tuesday’s discovery at the intersection of Burlington and Wentworth streets, Director of Water Nick Winters told reporters a city contractor has fixed the problem which resulted in sewage from 39 north-end properties being incorrectly discharged.

Read more: Hamilton says hole ‘made purposefully’ 26 years ago in sewer drained wastewater into harbour

An emergency contractor reconnected a sanitary sewer to the pipe that carries waste to the Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The intervention made in the sewer system back in the ’90s didn’t make it onto an inventory for the city’s maintenance team to inspect on a regular basis. since the team thought the storm sewer was discharging into another storm drain.

Photo taken by Hamilton Water November 22, 2022 of the combined sewer with noticeable flow dropping out and into the storm sewer. City of Hamilton

“We don’t go out of our way to inspect those connections just to make sure that nothing is going wrong,” Winters explained.

“I would characterize this as an anomaly, I sincerely hope.”

He said pipes attached to the homes in question were “connected wrong” and joined with the storm sewer pipe, then connected into a sanitary pipe.

Winters said there was no visible indication of the resulting spill into the harbour over the years since outfall typically is submerged in the waterway.

How much of misdirected sewage is involved over two and a half decades is expected to be calculated and revealed on Thursday, according to the city.

Staff say they’ve recorded some 455 occasions over the past 12 years in which repairs were needed to fix stormwater drainage going down to the wastewater treatment plant and sanitary discharges from homes going out to the natural environment.

“We have a program to identify these situations and to repair them,” said Winters.

A screenshot captured by city staff in November 2022 from a 2013 video showcasing an aerial image looking down at the cross connection where the combined sewer water is incorrectly entering the storm sewer below it.
A screenshot captured by city staff in November 2022 from a 2013 video showcasing an aerial image looking down at the cross connection where the combined sewer water is incorrectly entering the storm sewer below it. City of Hamilton

“Do we need something similar in other areas? That’s something that we’ll have to explore.”

Environment Hamilton’s Ian Borsuk, whose non-profit has been advocating for a “pipe-watching” program to mitigate these types of issues, says the the good news is how fast the city identified, took action and told the community.

The concern, however, is how it wasn’t discovered by flowing into an industrial area with few eyes to catch the problem.

“I think it really does raises questions about how frequently are we checking these things,” Borsuk said.

“Is the City of Hamilton being as proactive as they should be? Obviously, in this case, they weren’t.”

He says going forward the city will have to do things differently to protect Lake Ontario and local waterways that ultimately produce the city’s drinking water.

Combined with the Chedoke Creek snag that saw 24 billion litres of combined sewage and wastewater drop into a local waterway for some four years, Borsuk he doesn’t envy city politicians who now have to right the ship and restore public confidence.

Read more: City completes 2-way conversion of Hamilton’s Queen Street South

“Because I think in a lot of ways folks are now realizing that the problem is most likely a lot worse than we realized at first,” said Borsuk.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Andrea Horwath asked the city auditor to “have a look at what’s happened” and provide a public report.

“I’ve asked the staff to make sure that as we go through the process of getting more information and getting more more hands around the the mitigation for the the work that needs to be done to stop this from happening,” Horwath said.

Hamilton Water does have a surface water quality monitoring program to detect outfall into the city’s waterways, including a sample point near the where the Burlington Street issues were.

However, Winters says the examinations have only been happening for about a year old with no historical baseline data to judge what’s right or wrong.

“So the goal is that whether there is something unusual happening with a separated storm surge outfall, a combined sewer outfall … we’re going to have data that’s going to help us catch that,” he said.

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