City staff say it will take years to fix Hamilton’s ag­ing wa­ter mains

One of this year’s breaks in­volved a pipe that was in­stalled in 1881

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - KEVIN WERNER

More than 70 per cent of Hamilton’s wa­ter mains are older than 38 years, with about 35 per cent of the wa­ter pipes more than 68 years of age and some 100 years old.

“It scares me,” said An­drew Grice, di­rec­tor of wa­ter and waste­water, dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion to coun­cil’s first gen­eral is­sues com­mit­tee meet­ing of the new term. “It keeps me up at nights.”

But Coun. Lloyd Fer­gu­son said if the state of Hamilton’s wa­ter pipes gives city of­fi­cials night­mares, what about home­own­ers who live near those wa­ter mains that are 100 years old?

“I sus­pect (the state of the city’s wa­ter pipes) does scare some of our res­i­dents.”

Waste­water of­fi­cials were propos­ing an­other in­crease to the wa­ter and waste­water rate of 4.66 per cent, or an­other $32.20 to the av­er­age home­owner’s bill for 2019. The in­crease, which was ap­proved by coun­cil­lors, will mean the av­er­age bill for a home­owner will be about $722.90 from last year’s $690.70.

Last year’s wa­ter rate in­crease was about 4.5 per cent, which re­sulted in an $18-mil­lion sur­plus, of­fi­cials said.

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark, who ques­tioned why coun­cil­lors had to vote on the is­sue so soon af­ter be­ing sworn in, left the coun­cil cham­bers to avoid vot­ing against the rate in­crease.

De­spite the higher revenue of $222.3 mil­lion from last year’s $210.9 mil­lion, Grice ac­knowl­edged it will still take years to im­prove the city’s ag­ing wa­ter and waste­water in­fra­struc­ture.

“You will not see a dras­tic in­crease in a sin­gle year,” said Grice.

Last year, Hamilton res­i­dents saw sig­nif­i­cant wa­ter main breaks through­out the city, in­clud­ing at Clap­pi­son Av­enue and Dun­das Street at a cost of over $55,000; Up­per Par­adise and Ry­mal Road cost­ing nearly $170,000; six wa­ter main breaks along the Up­per Ot­tawa cor­ri­dor at a to­tal cost of $201,000; and $150,000 to fix a bro­ken wa­ter main at Del­brook Court and Stroud Road.

One of this year’s wa­ter main breaks at Grace and Dunn av­enues in­volved a pipe that was in­stalled in 1881.

And dur­ing Thurs­day’s dis­cus­sion, city crews were re­spond­ing to a wa­ter main break at James Street near Charl­ton Av­enue.

Fer­gu­son said city of­fi­cials are “ex­pect­ing” res­i­dents to pay for up­grad­ing the wa­ter pipes through a rate in­crease that is dou­ble the rate of in­fla­tion.

“It’s sig­nif­i­cantly above in­fla­tion,” he said, but voted for the rec­om­men­da­tion.

Coun­cil­lors will dis­cuss the rec­om­men­da­tion at their Dec. 19 coun­cil meet­ing.

Grice said staff are craft­ing a long-term strat­egy to bet­ter deal with re­plac­ing the ag­ing wa­ter and waste­water pipes. The plan isn’t ex­pected to be com­pleted un­til some­time in 2019.

Staff have been try­ing to ad­dress the city’s ag­ing wa­ter and waste­water in­fra­struc­ture is­sue since at least 2004 af­ter years of ne­glect, said Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla.

“There were years when sur­pluses were seen and not one penny was saved for a rainy day. It’s a to­tal dis­grace.”

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisen­berger, who was first elected as a Ward 5 al­der­man in 1991 ac­knowl­edged coun­cil­lors and staff back then didn’t ad­dress the need to re­place the city’s in­fra­struc­ture.

“When I first got here we re­ally weren’t do­ing any of that as­set man­age­ment ap­proach,” he said.

But since amal­ga­ma­tion, coun­cil­lors have been ap­prov­ing rate in­creases to raise the needed revenue to re­place the city’s wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture.

The city is ex­pected to spend about $273.1 mil­lion in gross cap­i­tal ex­penses in 2018.

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