City says faulty illustration may be partly to blame for 26-year sewage spill into Hamilton Harbour

Less than a day after announcing the discovery of a 26-year sewage leak into Hamilton's harbour, city staff say a faulty drawing may be to blame. 

Crews were installing a new pipe Wednesday to properly direct sewage, while many questions remained

Work to fix the sewage spill into the Hamilton Harbour included the installation of a new pipe. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

Less than a day after announcing the discovery of a 26-year sewage leak into Hamilton's harbour, city staff say a faulty drawing may be partly to blame. 

Director of Hamilton Water Nick Winters said Wednesday an incorrect illustration was given to contractors, which led to a hole being made into a combined sewage pipe in 1996. 

"It looks like the individuals involved in that project, were mistakenly thinking that they were dealing with two storm sewers … Unfortunately, that's not the case," Winters said, speaking to reporters near the corner of Wentworth Street North and Burlington Street East.

The area in Ward 3 was where the hole was discovered Tuesday.

Winters said the city doesn't yet know who the contractors were but is confident that the city will be able to track them down, he said.

The city reported the sewage spill to reporters for the first time Tuesday evening, saying it was discovered earlier that day when staff were reviewing video shot from inside the pipes in 2013. 

Staff was reviewing the footage after a request from the engineering team, Winters said.

"They asked us to look into some condition or characteristics in this area. Not sure the purpose of that yet. My suspicion is that it was likely to to help plan some upcoming infrastructure renewal work."

In total 50 properties are connected to the pipe and waste from those units has been flowing directly into the harbour. The houses are along Macallum Street and parts of Brant Street and Wentworth Street North.

The areas in the map highlighted in yellow are the ones connected to the sewage pipe. (City of Hamilton)

Winters said he "sincerely" hopes the leak was an anomaly. 

"Do we need to put in different programs to look for anomalies within our system? It would be difficult for me to stand in front of you and say that that's not the case."

However, the city would have to check 2,100 kilometres of sewer pipes to ensure the mistake was not made elsewhere, he added. 

Originally, 50 houses were believed to be tied to the pipe, but Winters confirmed that number to be 39, located along Macallum Street and parts of Brant Street and Wentworth Street North. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

James Quinn, a resident who has been living in the area for 10 years, said he's "not happy" about the spill going unnoticed for so long. 

"I would ask [the city] how it happened, you know, how is [this] allowed to happen? Was it through neglect, or incompetence, or what happened to cause this?"

Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann said Wednesday Hamilton Water's Outreach team was hand-delivering notices to impacted homes "to advise them of the discovery, immediate actions taken, and to advise them that there is minimal risk to public health," she posted on Instagram.

The city emphasized Tuesday that drinking water of Hamilton residents has not been affected. 

Nann also said the city was building a "dedicated webpage" for the community, where they could find more details "of the discovery and timeline of events." It was expected to be shared sometime this week.

New pipe will 'resolve this problem'

The city is now working to fix the sewer, Winters said.

A construction crew was working on installing a new pipe to direct sewage to the Western Sanitary Interceptor, a sanitary sewer running under Burlington Street. 

"That's going to resolve this problem," he said.

Director of Hamilton Water Nick Winters said the sewage spill was discovered on Tuesday, when staff were reviewing footage from 2013. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)

Many questions remain however, Winters acknowledged, including how much sewage spilled into the harbour, and why a video of this pipe was made in 2013 and who made it. 

There are "one or two" current city workers from relevant departments who may have been working in 1996, Winters said. 

As for measuring the spill amount, Winters said the city has a few numbers to work with — including water bills and the average water a person uses every day, which according to Winters is 200 litres. 

Leak 'flies in the face of commitment to the harbour'

"From an environmental perspective — and I don't say this to try and minimize this event — I think we're gonna find it the impacts are relatively small because of the volumes related to dilution here," Winters said. 

"But is it a setback? Every discharge that happens that carry some kind of sewage in the harbour in the City of Hamilton is a setback and is something we continually work on to get better."

The leak also "flies in the face to our commitment to the Hamilton Harbour," he added.

A recent photo of the combined sewer with flow dropping into the storm sewer. (Submitted by Emily Trotta/City of Hamilton)

Winters said it would not have been possible for water testing to pick up the spill, as the water sampling program only started a year ago. 

"We're in the process of building a baseline of historical data. So in the future when we collect samples, we compare that that fresh sample [to] what is the history of this location."

He said the dilution of water also contributed to samples not raising red flags.

"Again, not to minimize this event, but … it really is comparatively a trickle into a very large volume of water."

Mayor Andrea Horwath told reporters Tuesday she asked the auditor to complete a review and release a public report about what may have happened.

Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks spokesperson Gary Wheeler told CBC Hamilton the ministry dispatched an environmental officer to the site to evaluate the situation, gather additional information and ensure steps are being taken to stop the flow of sewage into the harbour.

"The ministry will be assessing the need to collect samples," he said, adding that the province will stay on top of the issue as it evolves.

The leak comes as the city is still working to clean up 24 billion litres of sewage that leaked into Chedoke Creek between 2014 and 2018.


  • A previous version of this story stated waste from 39 properties spilled into the harbour. The city shared the wrong number. Waste actually came from 50 properties.
    Nov 28, 2022 2:37 PM ET


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.

With files from Bobby Hristova


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