Hamilton

City releases timeline of Chedoke Creek sewage spill

The chronology makes it clear both the previous and current council were aware of the spill, but provides no other details other than dates and links to past press releases, meaning it's still unclear what was covered in the updates and reports.

The list shows when the mayor and members of council received udpates

The city has shared a chronology showing who knew about the Chedoke Creek sewage spill and when. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The city has shared a timeline showing when the mayor and council received information about the leak that allowed an estimated 24 billion litres of stormwater and sewage to spill into Chedoke Creek.

The chronology makes it clear both the previous and current council were aware of the spill, but provides no other details other than dates and links to past press releases, meaning it's still unclear what was covered in the updates and reports.

The list was released following the urging of councillors Maureen Wilson and Nrinder Nann, who pushed for the city to formally apologize for not telling residents the volume and length of the spill when council first became aware of it.

They also called for the city to rebuild trust with residents by being open and transparent, an effort that led to 10 formerly confidential consultant reports about the spill being shared for the first time.

The chronology that was shared Wednesday begins on July 12, 2018 when the city issued its first press release, warning residents to stay away from the "highly contaminated water" and that staff were investigating.

A second media release went out on July 18, revealing for the first time that there was an "active discharge" from one of the city's combined sewer overflow tanks.

The leak was stopped, but the direction to stay out of the water remained. The Royal Botanical Gardens has also removed docks at Cootes Paradise and warning signs were put near public access points.

On Friday the city updated its chronology to include a formal information update that was sent to council on July 27, 2018.

What followed was a formal report to the city's General Issues Committee (GIC) on August 13 and a verbal update to council on Sept. 26, 2018 — just over a month before the municipal election.

One of the consultant reports the city has released indicates officials had at least a rough confirmation of the scale of the leak as far back that month, and probably earlier.

A Quantification of Volume and Contaminant Loadings report dated Sept. 28, 2018 gives an estimation of 24 gigalitres (24 billion litres).

The leak was discovered in July 2018 after wastewater and other material covered the surface of the creek. (City of Hamilton)

It states the amount "is greater" than what the city reported to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks back on July 27, 2018, about the time the leak was first discovered and stopped.

That means the previous city council also had some sense of the spill magnitude, heading into the October election.

Of the 16 current members of council, 11, including mayor Fred Eisenberger, would have been in their current roles at the time and were re-elected with the scale of the leak kept secret from voters.

The list picks up after the election, with formal reports to the GIC on the following dates:

  • January 16, 2019.
  • June 19, 2019.
  • September 4, 2019.
  • October 16, 2019.

A verbal update was given to the committee on November 20, 2019, the same day the city released its third statement on the spill, admitting a bypass gate that had been left slightly open allowing a combination of sewage and wastewater to flow into the creek since Jan. 28, 2014 until the leak was discovered and the gate closed on July 2018.

Here's a look at the combined sewage overflow tank that leaked around 24 billion litres of runoff and sewage into Chedoke Creek over more than four years. 1:06

That statement came out shortly before a story from the Hamilton Spectator based on confidential reports about the spill.

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has issued several orders to the city and is continuing to investigate.

2 more formal reports to council

The chronology shows two formal reports have since been presented to council, but provides no information on what was involved.

At the end of the list is the city's fourth press release, sharing some of the secret reports and offering the following apology from the mayor and council.

"We apologize to the residents of Hamilton for the failure to publicly disclose the volume and duration of the discharge of storm water runoff and sanitary sewage into Chedoke Creek when it first became known to the Council in 2018 and at subsequent Committee and Council meetings."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.