Sept 25 2001.

Kingston Whig-Standard

Sewage threat demands action

by Paul Schliesmann, Editor

One thing that can be said of the mysterious “overflow structure” responsible for diverting about 21 million litres of sewage material into the Cataraqui River: It worked.

That is, assuming the underground structure was designed to prevent sewage from backing up into people’s homes. According to city staff, exactly who designed the system and when it was installed remain a mystery. Until the city discovered the raw sewage flowing into the Cataraqui River near Belle Park about three weeks ago, the very existence of the overflow system hadn’t been known to city staff.

Who knows what other nasty subterranean surprises lurk beneath Kingston’s streets? The city’s aged infrastructure, and questionable past practices such as this overflow structure, might render the old city section a polluting nightmare.

City inspectors discovered the raw sewage leak just over three weeks ago, but apparently the plug in the main sewer line causing it occurred five to seven weeks earlier – allowing up to 300,000 litres of undesirable material, including excrement, toilet paper, and other pollutants, to stream into the river each day.

An anonymous informant, having read a Whig-Standardaccount of the pollution, pointed city staff in the direction of the source. Armed with the new information, the city quickly corrected the problem on Friday. But there are four other storm sewer pipes draining into the Cataraqui River and Lake Ontario. What assurances do Kingstonians have that similar pollutants aren’t leaking from them?

What’s most disturbing is the length of time it took to rectify the problem, even taking into account the mysterious overflow structure. Bacterial tests taken at the site – not taken, it should be noted, by the city or the provincial Environment Ministry – indicated E. coli levels 1,500 times at which beaches are closed. There wasn’t even a sign posted warning the public of the serious health risk.

The potential for similar future environmental threats is all too real. Swift and comprehensive responses are needed to solve these mysteries.