Sewage flows into Toronto harbour regularly, says new advocacy group report

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper collected water samples throughout the summer and found nine 'hotspots' where sewage is released directly into the harbour.

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper found nine 'hotspots' where sewage is released directly into the harbour

Advocacy group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper made 10 sampling trips in Toronto's harbour throughout the summer. (Lake Ontario Waterkeeper)

Sewage flows into Toronto's inner harbour regularly from nine "hotspots," states a new report from a local environmental advocacy group.

In a video released on Thursday, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper outlined the findings of 10 sampling trips in the harbour throughout the summer. Samples were tested for E. coli, a bacteria indicating the presence of sewage.

Two-thirds of the more than 160 samples collected failed to meet Ontario governmental standards for protection, the group said.

And, on one day, the team found E. coli levels near Bathurst Street and Queen's Quay West were 700 times higher than Ontario's swimming standards.

"The bacteria levels were off the charts," said Krystyn Tully, vice president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.

Krystyn Tully, vice president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The Bathurst Quay area was identified as one of the nine 'hotspots' where sewage pollution enters Toronto Harbour due to outfalls connected to pipes containing sewage from homes and businesses.

According to the city, some of Toronto's older areas have combined sewers in which there is only one pipe that carries both sewage and stormwater — meaning rainfall can lead these pipes to overflow into local waterways.

The other hotspots identified were Spadina Quay, Harbourfront Canoe Centre, Pawsway Marina, Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, Sugar Beach Park, the harbour area near George Brown College, Parliament Street and the Keating Channel.

Regular water quality monitoring needed, group says

The report findings highlight a need for regular water-quality monitoring in the harbour, and distribution of that information to the public, Tully said.

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper hopes to sample regularly in 2017 and deliver harbour water-quality results to boaters through the group's Swim Guide app.

Toronto's beaches already have regular water monitoring throughout the summer months, which is shared online through SwimSafe.

From June to Labour Day, the city takes daily water samples from the supervised beaches across the city and tests for E. coli bacteria. When E. coli levels are high, Toronto Public Health posts warning signs against swimming. 

Sewage pollution can enter the harbour due to outfalls connected to pipes containing sewage from homes and businesses. (Lake Ontario Waterkeeper)

But Tully said swimmers aren't the only people going in the water. Sailers, kayakers, and others have secondary contact with the water in the harbour throughout the year, she said.

"The fact that they're going directly into the water in the harbour without water quality information — that's concerning," Tully said.

City committed to 'restoring Lake Ontario'

In a statement, Lou Di Gironimo, general manager for Toronto Water, said the city has not reviewed Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's data or the video report, and was not involved in collecting the samples.

The city is "committed to protecting and restoring Lake Ontario," Di Gironimo said in the statement.

Around $485 million has been invested into stormwater management projects since the Wet Weather Flow Master plan was adopted by council back in 2003, he added. Another $2.8 billion is slotted for the plan over the next decade.

The city is also in the process of implementing a large-scale modernization of its wastewater facilities, with more than $12 billion budgeted over the next 10 years to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure.