Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asks for Gatineau’s cooperation in preventing sewage overflows

Via Ottawa Citizen, March 5, 2012

by Mark Brownlee

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson will be looking for “co-operation” from Gatineau to address sewage overflows in the Ottawa River as part of discussions planned for later this year.

Sewage ends up in the river when the pipes underneath both cities can’t handle the overflow that results from a rain storm or snow melt. The City of Ottawa has allocated millions of dollars on a solution, but Gatineau is just now taking the first steps toward a similar plan.

College ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli recently called on Gatineau to spend more money to prevent sewage from flowing into the river, raising the question of how best to get the multiple governments responsible for the river to reach an agreement on cleaning it up.

Watson has already raised the issue with Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau, wrote Bruce Graham, Watson’s spokesman, in an email. He expects they will meet sometime later this year for a “more thorough discussion,” but they haven’t yet set a specific date.

“It’s clear that we will require both sides of the river to work in co-operation if the cleanup is going to be successful,” Graham wrote.

Ottawa plans to deal with the issue by spending $150 million to build huge underground storage tanks that will keep sewage-tainted rainwater from entering the river.

Gatineau, however, is just now installing the infrastructure that will allow it to monitor the amount of sewage it is sending into the body of water. It is testing equipment at 13 of 92 points where pipes enter the river, which officials will then install at all of the points if the experiment is successful.

The monitoring is an important first step in solving the problem, said Meredith Brown, executive director of the environmental charity the Ottawa Riverkeeper, in a recent interview. But Gatineau still has a long way to go in stemming the overflows, she said, noting that Ottawa publicly releases information about how much sewage enters the river during each overflow.

The National Capital Commission should be doing more to bring the municipalities together to address the issue, she added.

Section 10 of the law that explains the NCC’s mandate, the National Capital Act, gives it the power to “engage” with local municipalities for the “improvement, development or maintenance of property” in the region.

But the NCC doesn’t appear to be willing to take the invitation.

“The NCC has no jurisdiction and the question of the cities budget and ongoing negotiations for cleaning the river should be directed to them,” wrote Mario Tremblay, its spokesman, in an email.

Aging pipe systems in both municipalities that were originally designed to hold both water and household waste are to blame for the sewage issue. Whenever there is too much water in the system the pipes are designed to release both into the river.

Ottawa still experiences overflows despite the money they’ve spent. The poor water quality that results regularly forces the city to close beaches, for example.

mbrownlee@ottawacitizen.com

twitter.com/markbrownleeott

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