Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Pipewatch is Back! ... But Why?

In December of 2001, the Ministry of Environment’s Hamilton District Office issued an order requiring the city of Hamilton to analyse the discharge from every outfall into the Red Hill Creek watershed after investigating a series of citizen complaints regarding problem discharges. These discharges consisted of fecal matter and sanitary debris coming from storm sewer and combined sewer outfall pipes. During periods between major storm events, these outfalls should not have been discharging contaminants to local waterways.

The MOE also ordered that the city propose and implement resolutions to any problem discharges identified. The city failed to do this by the set deadline and additionally failed to request an extension. This resulted in the referral of the case to the MOE’s Investigation and Enforcement Branch.

At that time, Environment Hamilton conducted sampling work during drought conditions to determine whether the sewer outfalls were functioning properly. Our sampling confirmed that all of these discharge points except for one had bacterial contamination beyond allowable levels for recreational use of a waterway. Discharges were as high as 160 times above allowable levels for E. coli. We found these levels at a storm sewer outfall bearing no warning sign to the public of this contamination hazard.

Anticipating that these outfall issues remain a concern, Environment Hamilton is reviving its Pipewatch Program. Our goal is to revisit the concerns raised by neighbourhing residents and revisit the discharge issues known to exist within the Red Hill Creek watershed. We aim to determine whether the health of the creek has improved since the widespread problems were identified over a decade ago.  

To do this, residents and students will be empowered with the skills needed to properly identify pipe discharge points as either storm or combined sewer outfalls, and to properly monitor these outfalls for potential discharge problems using basic visual observations and sense of smell.  It is our hope that with increased responsibility and ownership of the watershed, we can better hold polluters accountable – helping to ensure that the watershed is enhanced and protected over time.

At this point the program is in its early stages. However, volunteers are welcome and encouraged to get involved! If you are interested in helping to monitor the watershed within the upcoming weeks and months, please contact Katie atkstiel@environmenthamilton.org. Also be sure to keep an eye out for our first community training session!