Dec 7 2001

Kingston Whig-Standard

City used river as sewer

Kingston may face an investigation by provincial green police – the second this year – after deliberately dumping more than 15 million litres of raw sewage into the Cataraqui River.

Last week, during several days of steady rain, the untreated sewage, enough to fill more than 134,000 bathtubs, poured into the river.

John Allen, a senior official at the Ministry of Environment office in Kingston, said the city blames the weather.

“They say 31.5 millimetres of rain fell during the event,” Allen said.

The diverted waste, 15.2 million litres, includes excrement, toilet debris, substances poured down sinks and drains and runoff from streets and parking lots.

The city calls these events “bypasses” because the foul fluid, normally sent to the sewage treatment plant, where it is filtered, bypasses the system and is allowed to run into a waterway.

The city deliberately diverts the sewage to avoid backups into homes, businesses and streets.

The sewage is poured into Lake Ontario, the Cataraqui River and Little Cataraqui Creek, usually because the old and frail sewer system is overloaded.

Last week’s two deliberate dumps, on Nov. 29 and 30, lasted a total of 25 hours. Both events involved the city’s main sewage pumping station on the west bank of the Cataraqui River at River Street.

The first spill began at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 29 and lasted until 12:35 a.m. The second spill began at 4 a.m. Nov. 30 and ended at 7 p.m. that day.

The River Street station typically pumps 60 million litres of raw sewage across the river each day through a large, underwater pipe connected to the Ravensview treatment plant.

Sometimes the station can’t handle the flow of waste but operators can’t turn up the pumps, for fear the underwater pipe will not withstand the added pressure.

The city is still working on a plan to replace the underwater pipe, which is more than 45 years old and at the end of its life expectancy.

All of the sewage was poured into the Cataraqui River last week from an underwater overflow pipe that discharges roughly into the middle of the river. The pipe is not visible.

The city is required to report all such spills to the Ministry of Environment but has never been prosecuted under pollution laws, although the practice has continued for decades.

“It’s been sent down to our investigations and enforcement branch,” said Allen.

The investigations and enforcement branch has broad, police-like powers to probe environmental incidents and lay charges. The branch does not comment publicly on its work.

It already is looking into another sewer spill that happened in late August and September this year, when the city allowed raw sewage to pour from a storm drain into the Cataraqui River for more than three weeks.

In that case, the city claimed a blocked line caused sanitary sewers to overflow into the storm system.