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City gets hit with Environment Ministry order in wake of sewage spills

Speeding up sewer testing could be expensive

The City of Hamilton has been issued an order by the provincial Environment Ministry to ramp up its testing for possible sewage discharges in the wake of the two heavily-publicized cross-connection events that were discovered in December and earlier this month. The city has been given until March 17 to develop a sampling program to identify “unauthorized discharges of untreated sewage” to the bay. The term “unauthorized” is used because the discharges that take place every time there is a severe rain event are allowed. Those rain discharges amount to billions of litres per year compared to the relatively small amounts of discharge that the two most recent incidents created. The order wants the city to do dry weather sampling to find out how much untreated sewage is going into the system when it isn’t raining.

The city is given a May deadline to develop a plan  to ramp up the current sewer inspection program. The city has initiated a proactive sewer inspection program and that is how the two recent spills were found, but the tone of the ministerial order suggests the Ministry wants something more elaborate—and expensive.

A report from a ministry inspector who attended both Hamilton spills said that back to 1969 when the incorrect connections were made contractors were working with incorrect maps. The inspector concluded, “it is my opinion that the City of Hamilton does not have adequate programs to inspect, monitor and identify unauthorized connections causing spills.”

In a news release announcing the Order the City wrote, “Hamilton Water staff intend to prepare a committee report for the February 13, 2023 Public Works Committee meeting. The report brought to Public Works Committee will provide an overview of the order, its implications, and the steps that Hamilton Water is taking to address the requirements. The report will also include further details related to its new proactive inspection program that helped identify the Rutherford spill, and continues to support staff in identifying other possible cross connections in Hamilton in order to facilitate immediate repairs. As a reminder, this includes 292 maintenance hole inspections as part of the City’s initial pilot, of which over 150 inspections have been completed to date.

Council can add the additional cost of compliance with what the Ministry appears to be looking for, to an already burgeoning list of demands on the 2023 budget.

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