City launches real-time sewage over­flow track­ing

Kingston Whig-Standard - - FRONT PAGE - IAN MACALPINE

Now that the warmer weather is pretty well here, cit­i­zens will soon be head­ing out to Kingston’s wa­ter­front to per­haps swim, pad­dle or fish.

But see­ing raw sewage float­ing on the wa­ter’s sur­face would be enough to dampen any­one’s en­thu­si­asm for wa­ter use.

The City of Kingston and Util­i­ties Kingston have come up with a way to warn res­i­dents in real time when the wa­ter may not be so safe and en­joy­able be­cause of higher pol­lu­tion lev­els.

Sewage in the wa­ter is usu­ally seen within 48 hours af­ter the city pumps sewage from its com­bined sewer sys­tem into Lake Ontario. This usu­ally oc­curs af­ter a heavy rain­storm when the city can’t treat the high vol­ume of un­treated wa­ter in its sys­tem. It gets rids of the wa­ter by pump­ing it into the lake.

Ear­lier this month, be­tween May 4 and 8, Util­i­ties Kingston by­passed al­most 80,000 cu­bic me­tres of waste­water into the river. The sewage dump into the river fol­lowed an­other sewage by­pass of 67,685 cu­bic me­tres that went into the river on May 1 and 2.

That’s enough sewage to fill 27 Olympic-sized swim­ming pools.

From April 4-6, also due to heavy rain, the util­ity dumped just over 214,000 cu­bic me­tres into the river.

So far this year, the util­ity has put just over 364,000 cu­bic me­tres of sewage com­bined with storm wa­ter into the river, more than three times more than it dumped in all of 2016.

The city has al­ways been trans­par­ent on how much sewage it dumps into the lake. Sta­tis­tics dat­ing back 10 years are pub­lished on the Util­i­ties Kingston web­site, but now the over­flows can be tracked in real time.

Kingston Util­i­ties pres­i­dent and CEO Jim Keech said Kingston is the first mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Ontario, and pos­si­bly in Canada, to of­fer real-time pub­lic no­ti­fi­ca­tion of sewer over­flows.

That doesn’t mean the over­flows will lessen right away, Keech said Thurs­day morn­ing at the Kingston Street Wa­ter Treat­ment Plant.

“This has been an in­her­ent prob­lem,” Keech told ap­prox­i­mately 30 area stake­hold­ers and Util­i­ties Kingston staff at the launch of the pro­gram. “We are work­ing to­wards it, we will con­tinue to work to­wards it, but I think this gives us one more tool at man­ag­ing it.”

Over­flows have been cut down over the years, Keech said, “with the work that we have done in work­ing to­wards elim­i­nat­ing th­ese and that is our end goal.”

He also re­al­izes the end of sewage over­flows are a ways away.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last 20 years and we prob­a­bly have an­other 20 years of work to do,” he said.

Also speak­ing at the event were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change; Kingston, Fron­tenac and Len­nox and Ad­ding­ton Pub­lic Health; Lake Ontario Water­keep­ers; and Mayor Bryan Pater­son.

“What we’ve tried to do with this is to pro­vide res­i­dents, users of the wa­ter­way, with a no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that when th­ese hap­pen — and un­for­tu­nately they are go­ing to hap­pen for some time — peo­ple are aware of it and can make ed­u­cated de­ci­sions on their own,” Keech said.

Pater­son called the pro­gram a lead­ing-edge tech­nol­ogy that’s im­por­tant to the Kingston com­mu­nity and oth­ers who share the use of the area wa­ters. It also fits in with the vi­sion of Kingston be­ing a 21st-cen­tury city.

“To do that, you have to have 21st-cen­tury in­fras­truc­ture, so that speaks to the great work that Util­i­ties Kingston has been do­ing over the past num­ber of years con­vert­ing us from 1950s in­fras­truc­ture to where ev­ery­thing went into a com­bined sewer and cre­ated a num­ber of dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues,” Pater­son said.

“It’s a great way to man­age it with a new tech­nol­ogy, tech­nol­ogy that will be able to in­form res­i­dents if there’s a heavy rain­fall and there is a tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tion with a sewer over­flow, and peo­ple can be care­ful of that and peo­ple can be no­ti­fied in real time.”

Krystyn Tully, founder and vice-pres­i­dent of Lake Ontario Water­keeper, told the group that in the past her group has been crit­i­cal of the city’s treat­ment of the lo­cal wa­ter­ways, but over the past few years it has started to take com­mu­nity con­cerns about wa­ter qual­ity se­ri­ously.

“I think it’s a tes­ta­ment to how far this city has come and how re­spon­sive both the city and Util­i­ties Kingston has been to the pub­lic’s con­cern and com­ments,” she said. “Now they’re de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy that’s be­com­ing the gold stan­dard to which all com­mu­ni­ties in Ontario should be per­form­ing. It’s re­ally re­mark­able.”

The Lake Ontario Water­keeper is a non-profit group from Toronto. Its goal is to guard, re­store and pro­tect the lake’s nat­u­ral re­sources and work for swimmable, drink­able and fish­able wa­ter.

“Sewage is an is­sue that’s near and dear to our hearts be­cause sewage is the No. 1 cause of sur­face wa­ter pol­lu­tion in North Amer­ica,” Tully said.

“So when a city like Kingston steps for­ward to say this is an is­sue, we take it se­ri­ously. We want to solve it.”

Tully said that when peo­ple who want to go swim­ming with their chil­dren or go pad­dling see sewage in the wa­ter, they’ll prob­a­bly never go back af­ter the bad im­pres­sion.

“They turn their back on the wa­ter, there’s no in­vest­ment in the wa­ter­front, there’s no con­nec­tion to the wa­ter­front, and it in­flu­ences the en­tire cul­tural way of life in a com­mu­nity,” she sid.

When given this in­for­ma­tion, peo­ple can choose to stay away from the wa­ter­front but also see days when the wa­ter is clean.

“We can flock to the wa­ter when it’s clean, and that be­comes a ral­ly­ing point for in­vest­ment and a new way of life in the com­mu­nity,” Tully said.

“We can’t wait for the other 40 com­mu­ni­ties in Ontario with com­bined sewer sys­tems to fol­low suit.”

Af­ter the event, Tully said Kingston is in the mid­dle of the pack among 40 Ontario com­mu­ni­ties with com­bined sew­ers when it comes to over­flows, with Hamil­ton be­ing at the top, but it is try­ing to fix that, she said.

“They’re mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in their sewage col­lec­tions and treat­ment right now.”

She added Toronto is not do­ing much to limit sewage go­ing into its end of Lake Ontario.

“It’s a tale of two cities. You see the city of Kingston is em­brac­ing pub­lic con­cerns and try­ing to re­con­nect peo­ple to the wa­ter­front, and they’re de­vel­op­ing in­cred­i­ble, in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy in the process, and un­for­tu­nately what we see hap­pen­ing in the city of Toronto is they’re not as re­spon­sive to the pub­lic’s con­cerns, which means we’re not get­ting that same kind of in­fras­truc­ture at­ten­tion and also not the same kind of in­no­va­tion hap­pen­ing ei­ther,” Tully said.

“Toronto can learn a lot from Kingston.”

Peo­ple can check a map within 48 hours af­ter heavy rain at www.Util­i­tiesKingston.com/ Over­flows.

Sewer over­flow lo­ca­tions af­fect­ing the Cataraqui River, the Lit­tle Cataraqui Creek and other sur­round­ing bod­ies of wa­ter are also shown.

IAN MACALPINE/THE WHIG-STAN­DARD

Util­i­ties Kingston treat­ment op­er­a­tor Me­gan Lock­wood is seen at the King Street Wa­ter Fil­tra­tion Plant af­ter the an­nounce­ment Thurs­day that Util­i­ties Kingston will track sewage over­flows in real time and no­tify the pub­lic. Lock­wood is one of the op­er­a­tors able to do sewage over­flow track­ing and no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

IAN MACALPINE/THE WHIG-STAN­DARD

Mayor Bryan Pater­son lis­tens as Util­i­ties Kingston pres­i­dent and CEO Jim Keech at the King Street Wa­ter Fil­tra­tion Plant an­nounces Thurs­day that Util­i­ties Kingston will track sewage over­flows in real time and no­tify the pub­lic.

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