Environment minister says Hamilton must audit entire sewage infrastructure after 2nd leak

Ontario's minister of the environment, conservation and parks said he's ordered Hamilton to audit its entire sewage infrastructure and create a remediation plan after the city revealed it just discovered sewage has been leaking into the harbourfront for the past 26 years.

David Piccini, Ontario's environment minister, called the 26-year-old sewage leak 'absolutely unacceptable'

Ontario's Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, David Piccini, said he's asked Hamilton to audit its entire sewage infrastructure. (Ontario Legislative Assembly)

Ontario's minister of the environment said he's ordered Hamilton to audit its entire sewage infrastructure after the city revealed it just discovered sewage has been leaking into the harbourfront for the past 26 years.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," David Piccini told Queen's Park while answering questions from Donna Skelly, the Progressive Conservative member of provincial parliament for Flamborough—Glanbrook.

"I was angry for the people who are yet again hearing about how their city and the lack of oversight has failed to protect their waters."

The city has 2,100 kilometres worth of sewer pipes.

Piccini also said the city will need to create a remediation plan to treat the damage to the Hamilton Harbour, which is part of Lake Ontario.

City spokesperson Norm Miller said the ministry of environment hasn't issued an official order yet.

Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the ministry is expecting the city to conduct a "comprehensive assessment of all their sewage infrastructure."

He said while the scope still needs to be defined, that would include "identifying illegal cross connections and then develop a plan to eliminate sewage discharges that could impact the environment."

"The work would be a significant undertaking and a multi-year initiative," Wheeler said.

Flow of sewage into harbour stopped overnight

Skelly said the city needs answers and action.

"Serious problems related to water infrastructure and environmental safety standards should never take over two decades to be addressed," she said.

The city made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon, saying a consultant put the hole into the combined sewage pipe in 1996, thinking all the sewers were storm sewers connected to a box culvert that lead out into the harbour.

It turns out 50 properties, mostly homes, are connected to that pipe, meaning their sewage was draining out into the water.

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

It's still unclear exactly how much sewage has flowed into the lake and how much damage it's caused. 

Tys Theijsmeijer, head of natural lands at Royal Botanical Gardens, said there isn't much wildlife near the harbour because of all the industry in the area.

City of Hamilton discovers 26-year leak of sewage into Hamilton Harbour

2 months ago
Duration 2:24
The city of Hamilton says it has discovered sewage has been leaking into the Hamilton Harbour since 1996 because of a hole in a combined sewage pipe in the industrial sector.

City spokesperson Norm Miller said in a news release on Thursday the flow of sewage into the harbour stopped overnight after workers finished repairs and realignment.

Work to stop the flow this week cost $29,830 according to Miller. Another $3,000 will be spent to fix the road.

The city has a general issues committee budget meeting which includes a presentation about the water, wastewater and stormwater rate budget, with city staff calling for a combined 6.49 per cent rate increase in 2023.

RBG expects at least one other sewage leak

Theijsmeijer said he's disappointed to hear about the leak but happy there's a process in place and everyone seems to be taking immediate action.

Theijsmeijer said the leak comes down to the difference between a new kind of sewer system and an old kind of sewer system.

The newer kind of system separates sewage and surface run-off.

Most of Hamilton consists of the older kind, a combined sewage system.

"If someone made the assumption it was the newer kind of sewage system in this spot, perhaps it means several other spots like this will be found out there in a review," Theijsmeijer said.

"Based on water-quality monitoring that the city is now doing quite intently, it would not at all be a surprise. There's got to be at least one more somewhere out there, maybe more than that." 
People wearing hard hats and safety vests stand around a hole in the road while a machine sticks a tube into it.
Work to fix the 26-year-old sewage spill into the Hamilton Harbour started on Tuesday. (Aicha Smith-Belghaba/CBC)


  • 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


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from Aura Carreño Rosas


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.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?