Locals are calling it “Sewergate 2.0” – just four years after it was revealed that billions of litres of untreated wastewater had leaked into Cootes Paradise, another sewer leak has been discovered in Hamilton.
On Nov. 22, Hamilton Water maintenance staff discovered a hole in a combined sewer pipe in the area of Burlington Street and Wentworth Street North that was spilling sewage into Hamilton Harbour.
Investigations conducted by Hamilton Water maintenance and city staff have revealed that the hole had been present since 1996 and was purposely put there by a contractor who was provided with an inaccurate work order. The leaking sewer pipe was connected to 50 nearby homes, and over the past 26 years, approximately 337 million litres of raw sewage were flushed directly into the harbour as a result.
The hole has since been fixed, but for a hefty price tag of over $30,000.
In a statement released on Nov. 22, newly-elected Mayor Andrea Horwath expressed her concern and vowed to be transparent as investigations continued.
“In line with my commitment to transparency, I asked that this information be made public immediately,” the statement read. “I am concerned about the environmental impacts of this spill […] I was assured that the nature of the spill makes the risk to human health very low.”
The incident has reopened wounds for Hamiltonians who remember the first sewage leak into Cootes Paradise, a protected waterway and environmental reserve adjacent to Hamilton Harbour.
“It’s so upsetting to hear about this happening again,” Hamilton resident Amy Nichols said. “It sounds like it’s not as serious as what happened at Cootes, mostly because the harbour is so industrial and not a wildlife reserve. But all water is life, and right now with climate change coming to a head it’s even more important to protect it. If this went unnoticed by the city for 26 years, the entire span of my life, what else is broken that they haven’t noticed yet?”
While the complete scope of environmental impacts from the two spills remain unknown, many are calling for more action from the city to prevent more incidents like this – starting with listening more closely to Indigenous water walkers, who had allegedly been warning about the spill for some time.
“One huge reason why we’re here again? The City isn’t listening closely enough,” Cameron Kroetsch, Ward 2 City Councillor, said in a Tweet. “Water walkers told the City about this. It’s vital that the City centers and prioritizes the expertise and advice of Indigenous water walkers.”
“Hamilton is lucky to have so many engaged and thoughtful communities,” he added. “Bringing those communities in to the decision-making process not only helps to limit risks but creates and inclusive and welcoming civic environment. We need that now, more than ever.”
David Piccini, Ontario’s environment minister, called the spill “absolutely unacceptable” and has ordered Hamilton to audit all 2,100 km of its sewage infrastructure – a task that will likely take years to complete.