Hamilton discovers 26-year-old error that caused sewage to leak into harbour

Hamilton Harbour
Image of Hamilton Harbour, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hamilton Water says consultant put hole into combined sewage pipe in 1996

Ontario Construction News staff writer

A Hamilton contractor has repaired the hole cut into a sewage pipe and connecting to a storm sewer line discharging into Lake Ontario for about 26 years.

Wastewater sewage that has been spilling into the Hamilton Harbour since 1996 is being called an “anomaly” incident and the environmental impacts will likely be “relatively small,” a city official says.

“Knowing that something like this could happen for that duration without us knowing about it doesn’t make any of us feel good,” Director of Hamilton Water Nick Winters said at a news conference Wednesday, the day after the leak was discovered at the northeast corner of Wentworth Street North and Burlington Street East.

In a statement, the city says it believes a contractor made the hole under the impression that “all pipes were storm sewers” designed to connect to the culverts spilling into the harbour.

“The issue of course is that there’s a very large storm sewer behind me here underground that runs along Wentworth Street North and out to the harbourfront. And on the harborfront there’s a storm sewer outfall, so any flow from that pipe goes out to the harbour. That outfall’s submerged 100 per cent of the time…so there would have been nothing visible… that would have indicated to them that this spill was occurring over a period of time,” Winters said.

As a result, sewage from 39 properties has been flushing into a storm sewer dumping directly into the harbour.

“It looks like the individuals involved in that project were mistakenly thinking that they were dealing with two storm sewers,” Winters said. Workers thought they were creating a connection from one storm sewer into another, which wouldn’t have been a problem… however, “that’s not the case,” Winters said.

The problem was discovered as crews prepared for a maintenance project and the sewer is now connected to the city’s Western Sanitary interceptor.

“We believe that this is a permanent fix and it’s going to resolve this, but we do need to do some further engineering work, some hydraulic modeling, just to make sure the impacts of this new connection,” Winters said.

Hamilton Water is reviewing its internal processes and identifying opportunities for process improvement, and the Office of the City Auditor has been asked to consider an internal investigation in the interest of determining opportunities to improve and aim to prevent these types of incidents in the future.

Public Works staff are expected to bring a report forward to the City’s Public Works Committee on Monday, and Communications staff are also working on sharing the information via the City website to ensure reference information on this issue is available ongoing.


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