Swamped sewage plant runs afoul of pol­lu­tion rules

Heavy rain and high lake wa­ter level blamed for non-com­pli­ance by plant in June

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

A record soggy spring forced the city’s treat­ment plant to spit out treated sewage too full of float­ing de­bris to meet pro­vin­cial stan­dards in May.

The un­prece­dented flows of storm wa­ter and sewage in May — an av­er­age of 219 Olympic-sized swim­ming pools ev­ery day — are be­ing blamed for the Wood­ward treat­ment plant ex­ceed­ing pro­vin­cial rules for “to­tal sus­pended solids” that month.

Ba­si­cally, that means treated sewage re­leased into the Red Hill Creek was too murky with float­ing par­ti­cles — think sewage, but also silt or de­cayed plants.

Hamil­ton Wa­ter di­rec­tor An­drew Grice called the reg­u­la­tory blem­ish a “morale chal­lenge” for plant em­ploy­ees who watched a 138-month “spot­less com­pli­ance record” spi­ral down the drain.

But oth­er­wise, he said a sin­gle month of “just over the limit” cloudy ef­flu­ent won’t send Hamil­ton har­bour into an en­vi­ron­men­tal tail­spin.

“If it be­came the norm, we would be con­cerned, be­cause that (murky wa­ter) af­fects plant growth … and gen­er­ally the en­vi­ron­men­tal health of the har­bour,” he said.

“But we look at this as a hope­fully very rare sce­nario that em­pha­sizes how ridicu­lous the wa­ter flows are that we’re see­ing.”

In an emailed state­ment, spokesper­son Jen­nifer Hall said the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment reviews all sce­nar­ios where treat­ment lim­its are ex­ceeded, but also ac­knowl­edged the “sig­nif­i­cant pre­cip­i­ta­tion” and high flows that led to the prob­lem.

The re­lent­less rain and storm surges caused far more en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ster­na­tion this spring by re­peat­edly push­ing un­treated sewage directly into the har­bour.

The Spec­ta­tor pre­vi­ously re­ported April and May storm surges forced Hamil­ton’s over­whelmed pipes and plant to dump more than 2,000 me­gal­itres of un­treated or partly treated sewage into a har­bour al­ready strug­gling against bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion that has closed Bayfront Park beach.

(Sewer over­flows into the har­bour don’t af­fect Hamil­ton’s drink­ing wa­ter be­cause it is piped in from Lake On­tario.)

That emer­gency “by­pass­ing” of sewage is al­lowed be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is let­ting ex­cess storm wa­ter mixed with sewage back up into the base­ments of peo­ple’s homes.

Other lake city treat­ment plants are grap­pling with sim­i­lar chal­lenges this spring.

Kingston is ap­proach­ing a fiveyear record for sewage by­passes just half­way into 2017, while Toronto’s Hum­ber treat­ment plant recorded six such by­passes in April and May.

Aside from the re­lent­less rain, Grice said his­tor­i­cally high Lake On­tario lev­els are also push­ing more wa­ter into the sewer sys­tem.

The ris­ing wa­ters even cov­ered the out­flow pipes of three emer­gency hold­ing tanks that nor­mally serve to catch and pre­vent ex­cess storm wa­ter from dump­ing into the har­bour.

That has put the tanks out of com­mis­sion — and given con­fused fish an un­ex­pected route into the sew­ers. (The man­gled re­mains of those carp have made it as far as the treat­ment plant it­self, sev­eral kilo­me­tres away.)

The city is em­bark­ing on a Wood­ward plant over­haul worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars that will add a high-tech layer of fil­tra­tion to sewage treat­ment de­signed to fur­ther clean the treated ef­flu­ent re­leased into the har­bour by 2020.

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