Swamped sewage plant runs afoul of pollution rules
Heavy rain and high lake water level blamed for non-compliance by plant in June
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.