'A heavy heart': Report shows massive sewage spill didn't change Cootes Paradise much

A new report says Hamilton doesn't have to do any remediation to Cootes Paradise after 24 billion litres of sewage and stormwater leaked into the water over four years.

Councillor says it's 'damning' that 24 billion litres of sewage and stormwater didn't change the water much

A new report says despite the massive four-year leak no remediation of Cootes Paradise is required. (Terry Asma/CBC)

A new report says Hamilton doesn't have to remediate Cootes Paradise after a four-year, 24 billion-litre sewage and stormwater leak, and one councillor says it's a "damning" sign of the sad state of the water.

The consultant Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE) wrote in a new report that there were no long-term impacts to Cootes Paradise resulting from an accidental leak into the ecologically sensitive area.

The city is already working on a water quality program, and plans to hire a water quality technologist to oversee it, says a report coming to city council Wednesday.

But EIE looked at water quality, sediment quality, aquatic vegetation and the health of the fish community and found there was no benefit to a further clean up.

"EIE concluded that no remediation activities are recommended," says the staff report summarizing EIE's findings, and there is "no evidence of ongoing environmental impact."

Maureen Wilson, councillor for Ward 1 (west end), said the report was damning — not for the recommendation, but because Cootes Paradise is in such poor shape that a four-year sewage leak didn't change it. 

'It must be the new starting point'

"If it's not impaired by the spillage of billions of litres [of sewage and stormwater]," she said, "what does that tell us about the baseline?"

She read the report with "a heavy heart," she said.

"It must be the new starting point for our discussions about needing to look at our watersheds."

The situation began on Jan. 28, 2014, when a gate partially opened on an underground combined sewer overflow (CSO) tank at Main and King. The gate stayed open until July 18, 2018, which means for four years, a combined 24 billion litres of sewage and stormwater escaped, dumping into Chedoke Creek and flowing to Cootes Paradise and eventually Hamilton Harbour.

The new report is part of fulfilling three orders the province issued after the spill. The first is a director's order, which told the city to look at Chedoke Creek, and a separate consultant also found that the spill hadn't impacted Chedoke Creek long term. A second order expanded the investigation to Cootes Paradise, and the city must submit a report by May 1. 

RBG says issue needs to be looked at more

Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) didn't weigh in on the EIE report Monday, saying it hadn't looked at it in detail. 

"Our initial assessment is that we strongly believe that additional analysis is required to evaluate the severity of damage at Chedoke Creek," spokesperson Nick Kondrat said in an email. 

"In our view, it's crucial to convene technical experts from the City of Hamilton, RBG, the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Conservation Halton, and others to promote information sharing, assign appropriate lines of accountability and identify ways to mitigate issues in the future."

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said in February after the Chedoke Creek that the spill's damage appeared to be "more reputational than environmental." He had a similar view Monday.

"I'm not terribly surprised," he said of the finding. "I think the indicator earlier on was that this material flowed through to Cootes Paradise and through to the bay and flushed out into Lake Ontario."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca