City bureaucrats have been
instructed to find ways to stop human feces from contaminating
the Ottawa River. The cost is likely to be in the tens of
millions of dollars.
Members of the community and
protective services committee asked for a set of costedout
options after a hearing yesterday into water quality problems at
Petrie Island beach. E. coli bacteria have often been found in
the river off the beach, making it unsafe for swimmers.
Old downtown sewers are prime
suspects in the contamination. A large portion of the core has
one set of sewer pipes, instead of separate sanitary and
stormwater systems. Under normal conditions, the contents of the
sewers is pumped to the sewage-treatment plant just upstream
from the beach in the Green’s Creek area, along with the rest of
the city’s sewage.
However, raw sewage mixed with
stormwater routinely overwhelms the sewers’ capacity during
heavy rains, and the overflow is discharged directly into the
river. A holding tank to create more storage space to stop this
was estimated last year to cost $60 million.
The sewage-treatment plant meets
all environmental regulations. But the city’s medical officer of
health, Dr. David Salisbury, said the Ottawa River is absorbing
more and more waste along its whole length, and perhaps can’t
dilute even legally permissible levels of waste in the treatment
With E. coli a problem at all city
beaches, the committee decided to find out once and for all how
much it would cost to stop the pollution.
That way, Councillor Diane Holmes
said, the city will know if it can fix the problem, or if
councillors should “admit our mistake” in approving the manmade
beach at Petrie Island.
Scientists warned of water quality
problems before council OK’d the project in 2003. If the
problems prove insoluble, the city might close the beach
“Staff recommended against this
beach, knowing it was downstream from our sewage treatment
plant, and surprise, surprise, it’s contaminated,” Ms. Holmes
said. “Human beings have been content to pollute the
environment, and this is an example of what happens. We have to
decide if we are prepared to stop it, or we are content to
pollute ourselves right out of existence.”
Dr. Salisbury said the choices are
simple: stop allowing human waste into the river at current
rates or accept that water quality is going to get even worse.
Orléans Councillor Bob Monette,
whose ward includes the beach, said he felt Petrie Island was
being unfairly singled out for criticism by the media, since its
water quality is no worse than at other city beaches.
In 2007, the beach was closed for
six days due to high E. coli counts. In 2006, the beach was
closed to swimmers for 45 days because of E. coli in the water
and was open 26 days; in 2005, it was closed for 15 days.
Dr. Salisbury said 2007 was a
particularly dry year, so the water was better than normal, and
2006 was wetter than normal, so the water was worse.
To illustrate his point, he
highlighted the findings of Environment Canada researchers who
studied water quality at the beach last summer.
They found that even though it was
a dry year, water quality was most significantly affected by
“fecal contamination sources on the Ontario side of the Ottawa
River in 2007.” The staff report on what it would cost to stop
polluting the river is expected in a year.