Ottawa politicians to break ground today on $232M sewage tunnel project

Local politicians will break ground today on a new $232-million infrastructure project designed to prevent untreated sewage from flowing into the Ottawa River in the future.

Project expected to finally bring end to Ottawa River overflow problem

Today, politicans will gather in Ottawa to break ground on a $232-million storage tunnel project designed to severely reduce the likelihood that sewage will spill into the Ottawa River. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

On a single day this year, after a heavy rainfall, a record-smashing 172,000 cubic metres of raw sewage overwhelmed the City of Ottawa's water system and spewed out the overflow pipes into the Ottawa River.

That same day, Aug. 13, every city beach was closed due to high fecal coliform counts. It took another seven days for all the beaches to reopen.

According to tracking by the City of Ottawa's overflow activity log, that single day sent almost as much sewage into the Ottawa River as the entire year's worth of overflow in 2015.

But Ottawa is about to take control of its raw sewage problem once and for all. A new infrastructure project that features two giant overflow storage tunnels will prevent untreated sewage from flowing into the Ottawa River in the future.

Sewage tunnels expected to be in use by 2020

Later today, elected officials from all levels of government are expected to board a bus — with journalists in tow — for a long-awaited groundbreaking that will herald the beginning of a four-year construction project.

The Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel (CSST) is part of the Ottawa River Action Plan. The plan, which has a stated goal to clean up the river, was approved by council in 2009 and has already included a number of projects that have — according to Mayor Jim Watson — reduced the amount of raw sewage going into the river by 80 per cent.

The CSST project will involve the building of two storage tunnels: an east-west tunnel through the downtown core and a north-south tunnel along Kent Street to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The project comes with a hefty $232.3-million price tag and involved years of lobbying for federal and provincial government funding. 

It's expected to be complete by 2020, with the federal and provincial governments each contributing about $62 million and the rest from the City of Ottawa. The final federal component came through following the election in 2015.

Along with Watson, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Bob Chiarelli, Ontario's minister of infrastructure, are expected to take part in today's groundbreaking.

Beaches closed after an Aug. 13 rainfall that smashed records and sent more than 170,000 cubic metres of raw sewage into the Ottawa River. (City of Ottawa website)

Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward Coun. Tobi Nussbaum is also planning to be there, since one of the giant tunnels travels directly through his ward, emptying at Stanley Park.

Nussbaum said that after a major rainfall, the tunnels are capable of storing more than 40,000 cubic metres of water that will eventually be treated at the city's treatment plants.

"So it really is about ensuring the purity of the water and ensuring we're doing the right thing, in terms of only putting back into the river water that's being treated at the plant," Nussbaum said.