A day after Councillor Sam Merulla urged council to set aside some funding for the cleanup of Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise in the wake of Sewergate, the Ministry of Environment has made the decision for council. A ministerial order has been issued that compels the city to undertake targeted dredging of the creek and to implement other measures to restore the waterways to their pre-spill condition. The report by Shelly Yeudall of the Ministry rejected a proposal by the city to “not recommend any action or additional remedial work to address the effects from the sewage spill because the City believed either impact was short-lived or no adverse impact was sustained on water quality, sediment, aquatic vegetation or fish in Cootes Paradise.”
Yeudell didn’t agree, writing in her order “ I am of the view, after having consulted with ministry experts, that the spill caused or may cause impairment to the system and therefore the items identified in the Order are required and more work is needed. “ She wrote that the contaminates contained in the creek have “moderate to high risk for effects to some organisms from PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, known to have carcinogenic effects) … all of which may continue to impact organisms in the water and sediment; and will continue to increase the risk in the frequency and size of algal blooms which may impair the water for its use or cause injury as a result of algal blooms.”
The report details the discovery of the spill in 2018 that ultimately turned out to involve 24 billion litres of raw sewage flowing into Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise. It started with a complaint by a citizen about a sewage odour in Chedoke Creek. Three days later Public Health reported high E-Coli levels in the stream and ordered signs to be posted along the creek and at Cootes Paradise warning of possible contamination. Yeudell visited Kay Drage Park on July 16 and detected a sewage odour and saw raw sewage in the creek. The city’s response was that the odour was of a natural origin or possibly that the sediment in the creek had been disturbed.
The next day Yeudell walked the creek upstream from the city’s sewer overflow tank and found the water to be clear and orourless, but immediately downstream of the tank there was sewage. After further investigation on July 27, city staff finally confirmed that the spill was a result of a gate on the Tank had been slightly ajar for three years, allowing the spill to take place.
The report details multiple attempts by the ministry to get the city to provide a remediation plan, between August if 2018, when a Provincial Officer Order (somewhat ironicaly referred to by the acronym POO) was issued and May of this year.
The order requires the city to get moving immediately on remediation, ordering the city by this coming December 11 to ,”retain the services of a Qualified Person that has the experience and qualifications to carry out the work.” That individual will have just over a month to submit a workplan to conduct the dredging, and the report calls for the work to be done by October 2021.
In an apparent reference to the extended gap in informing the public about the original spill, the report ordered a transparent communications plan: “based on previous significant public interest, and the need to keep the public informed, the Order also requires posting on the City’s website with progress reports, as needed.”