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 industrial sector sewer line.
It is unclear how much sewage has flowed into the port.
But Nick Winters, director of Hamilton Water, told reporters Tuesday afternoon “it’s going to be a big number,” adding that the city will publicly release the number once they have it.
Carlyle Khan, general manager of public works, said Hamilton Water staff noticed something strange on security camera footage. Winters said this led to the discovery of the hole late Tuesday morning at the northeast corner of Wentworth Street North and Burlington Street East.
A preliminary staff investigation notes they believe a consultant made the hole in the combined sewer line in 1996, Winters said.
“It seems the consultant involved in that work was under the impression that all sewers in that area were storm sewers and they designed a direct connection to a duct leading into Hamilton Harbour,” he said.
“The situation we are describing to you today is something that should not have happened.”
What is the impact of the sewage system?
City officials said Hamilton residents’ drinking water has not been affected by the newly discovered leak, but the spill will have had an impact on the port area.
The outflow ends at a Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority Pier, Winters said.
About 50 houses are connected to this pipe, but he said the water used by those houses has ended up in the lake.
Winters said staff looks at the amount of water each home uses to figure out how much sewage has entered the port.
He also said the leak should be “significantly less” of sewage than the 24 billion gallons of sewage that leaked into Chedoke Creek for four years — a leak the city is still cleaning up.
How did the leak go undetected for 26 years?
The stormwater sewer drain is always under water, so a spill would not be easy to detect and/or sample, Winters said.
He said the stormwater sewer is 2½ meters wide and 2½ meters deep.
Sampling from the sewers themselves isn’t something that generally happens either, Winters added, but the city launched it program for the quality of the surface water last year.
He said the Hamilton Water team was preparing to do other work, and while reviewing past data, they came across a consultant’s video from 2013 that showed unusual activity.
That led them to investigate and discover the 26-year-old leak.
What is the city doing about it?
Winters said staff contacted the Department of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) Spill Action Center at 12:20 a.m. ET Tuesday and reported it to the city’s spill hotline.
According to Winters, a vacuum truck is also on site as a short-term way to stop the flow of wastewater to the environment.
The city said residents in the area can expect many trucks and other vehicles nearby as staff work to resolve the issue.
Winters said it’s unclear how much resources will be needed to solve the problem.
Mayor Andrea Horwath told reporters on Tuesday that she had asked the auditor to conduct an assessment and release a public report on what may have happened.
MECP spokesman Gary Wheeler told CBC Hamilton the ministry has sent an environmental officer to the site to evaluate the situation, collect additional information and ensure steps are taken to stop the flow of sewage into the port.
“The ministry will assess the need to collect samples,” he said, adding that the province will keep abreast of the matter as it evolves.
Mayor, council members concerned about leakage
Horwath said her main concern is the impact of the spill on the environment.
“Like all of you, I’m worried,” she said.
She also said Tuesday’s response to the leak is evidence that the new city council wants to be transparent.
“It is important for Hamiltonians to get information as soon as possible,” she said, adding that she learned of the situation between 3:30 and 4:00 pm. She spoke to the media about the matter shortly after 5 p.m.
Department 2 Count. Cameron Kroetsch tweeted that he is “deeply concerned about this and learned about it by email at 4:38pm”
“I’m glad this is being made public right away. Water is life.”
Department 13 count. Alex Wilson tweeted that the city will soon be voting on the water, wastewater and stormwater budget — and it’s an opportunity to make a change.
“We have the ability to fund the maintenance, repairs and remediation necessary to protect our waterways,” they wrote.
“I will be submitting motions in that direction in the coming weeks.”