Money down the drain By SUSAN SHERRING / Ottawa Sun 16th June 2009
If you will, cleaning up the Ottawa River is now sexy. It’s about time. A major report on cleaning up the river is expected to be made public today, revealing completely ridding the historic waterway of combined sewer overflows would cost about $2 billion, take upwards of 50 years and leave 80,000 homes disrupted — all with minimal results. “It is estimated that complete elimination of CSOs (combined sewer overflows) would involve construction of up to 300 km of sewers, and removal of foundation drain connections from up to 80,000 private homes and buildings by replacement of service laterals or installation of sump pumps. “It would take over 50 years of highly disruptive work, and would cost in excess of $2 billion, with minimal resulting environmental benefit.
The complete elimination of CSOs is not supported by the river model analysis,” according to a series of questions and answers obtained by the Sun that will accompany the report. A combined sewer overflow carries both sanitary and storm flows in a single pipe. The single-pipe collection system evolved over time to partially separated systems in the 1950s, then to fully separated systems in the late ’60s and early ’70s. During wet weather with the single systems, a portion of the combined sewage ends up in the river. A computer model being used by the city reveals the CSOs are the greatest source of bacteria in the river, with the storm water being the largest source of other contaminanats, including metals.
The pollution in the river came into the limelight after it was revealed problems with the sewer resulted in tons of raw sewage polluting Petrie Island Beach — and a coverup prevented the truth coming to light for years. At that time, both Alta Vista Coun. Peter Hume, the chairman of the city’s planning committee, and Transportation Minister John Baird, stepped up to the plate — or river if you will — and focused much of their attention on what could be done to ensure the public wasn’t swimming in sewage-laden water. Clearly sexy before its time, politicians and the public alike have since demanded better protection of the river.
Currently, Ottawa and Gatineau CSOs, and the Gatineau Wastewater Treatment Plant, contribute 85% of the loading of E.coli beyond natural occurring levels into the river during storm events. “Outside of the discharge of CSOs, the largest impact to Petrie Island water quality during regular storm events result from the discharges from Green’s Creek, Voyageur Creek, and Bilberry Creek, due in large part to their proximity to the beach and the nature of urban tributary water quality,” the Q&A reveals. City staff are relying on something called “real time control” to significantly reduce the amount of sewage overflow into the river.
The city is in the process of developing a storm-water management strategy, which includes a pilot study in the Pinecrest Creek area to determine what measures can be implemented to reduce storm-water pollution, which is having an impact on Westboro Beach. The first phase of the strategy goes from now until 2015. The second phase will look beyond the regulations, and recognize the public might want more protection of the river.
While the impact of the Gatineau Wastewater Treatment facility on Petrie Island has often been blamed, it’s not a significant pollutant, according to the Q&A. “While the Gatineau Wastewater Treatment Plant does not currently disinfect its effluent, hydraulic modelling has shown that the effluent plume from this facility stays quite close to the Quebec shoreline and contributes approximately 2% of the E.coli at Petrie Island.”
Council has approved $139 million funding for the river over five years, including $19.75 million this year. Once this plan undergoes the public consultation process, proposed adjustments will be made and budgeted for 2010. Public consultation on the protection plan is set for this fall.