Our Harbour

Hamilton Clean Harbour Program

Restoring and Protecting Hamilton's "Beautiful Waters"
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The 7.5-kilometre long triangle of Hamilton Harbour has been at the heart of the communities surrounding it for centuries.  It was a pristine fishery for the Iroquoian-speaking First Nations that called the bay “Macassa” – beautiful waters.  It was the engine that powered the industrial progress of the “Ambitious City.”[1] It was the playground for generations who found entertainment and recreation on its waters and its shores.

Then, by the Second World War, sewage, habitat destruction, contamination and toxic spills had turned the harbour into something different.  It had become, in the words of one Hamilton Spectator reporter, “dirty and flecked with foulness.”  The degradation continued into the 1980s when our community decided to begin reclaiming the harbour’s health and natural heritage.

Video: Telling the story of Hamilton Harbour

The progress since is a Hamilton success story and Hamilton Water is at the centre of our community’s efforts to improve water quality, restore the natural environment and protect the health of the harbour for future generations.

Today's Harbour
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Hamilton Harbour is a reflection of the people, businesses and natural habitats around it.  The harbour’s 500-square km watershed[2] is home to more than 600,000 people who are becoming increasingly aware that the harbour fulfils multiple roles in the community.  If we protect the harbour and use it wisely, it can support industry and commerce; offer recreation, sport and cultural experiences; and become a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.[3]

Achieving these goals is a complex process.  Getting there starts with our choices at home – choices like conserving water, fixing leaks and disposing of paints and solvents responsibly.  Hamilton’s water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure[4] also plays an integral role in our community’s efforts to maintain a healthy, multi-use harbour.  The facilities and processes we use to pump, treat, drain and move water through our City are the responsibility of Hamilton Water and they are shaping Hamilton Harbour’s present and future. 

Hamilton's Clean Harbour Program
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Hamiltonians and Hamilton City Council have made it clear that bringing Hamilton Harbour back to health is a community priority.  Hamilton’s Clean Harbour Program is working to transform the harbour by improving water quality, undoing environmental damage caused by decades of neglect and restoring harbour ecology.

The Clean Harbour program unites local, provincial and federal governments in making large capital investments in water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure with the goal of producing measurable improvements in water quality and in the health of the local environment.  Initiatives include everything from fixing cross-connected pipes that contaminate storm sewers[5] to iconic community projects including the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant[6] upgrade and the construction of the Randle Reef[7] engineered containment facility (ECF).  These projects – big and small – form the foundation that will support the health of Hamilton Harbour for decades.

A Big Piece of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan
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By the middle of the twentieth century, decades of toxic sediment, stormwater runoff, habitat loss, water quality deterioration and other factors had caused severe damage to the Hamilton Harbour ecosystem.  Then in 1987, the International Joint Commission (IJC) – the organization overseeing the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement – identified Hamilton Harbour as one of 43 areas of concern (AOC).  Being named to that list of locations where environmental degradation seriously impaired the use and environmental health of the Great Lakes was a turning point.

By 1992, community stakeholders had developed the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan (HHRAP), a road map for restoring the harbour to good health and having it removed – or “delisted” – as an area of concern. The Clean Harbour Program manages the largest public investments in the HHRAP.  Those projects impact the majority of measurable targets identified in the plan and when the harbour is delisted, the Clean Harbour program will be one of the key strategies that made it possible.  

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The Harbour of the Future
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Hamilton Harbour is counting down to delisting day.  With the leadership of Hamilton City Council and the contributions of dozens of community stakeholder organizations, the Clean Harbour program is making powerful contributions to the harbour’s recovery.  The harbour has passed the half-way point of the HHRAP and is now looking to projects such as the upgrade of the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant and the containment of the Randle Reef toxic sediment to bring the harbour to the verge of delisting and beyond.

There is a great deal of work still to do, and on the day after delisting, the work of sustaining and improving on that success will begin, but Hamilton’s Clean Harbour program is working today to reclaim the health of Hamilton Harbour and make it a safe and beautiful place of pride for our community.

[1] Hamilton’s nickname that began as a sarcastic insult from a Toronto writer, but became a motto and rallying cry by as early as the 1830s
[2] The area from which all water – streams, creeks and other runoff – eventually flows into the harbour
[3] A mutually dependent system of animals, plants and habit in the natural environment
[4] Built community assets, often large construction projects, including sewers, water treatment plants, pumping stations and other facilities
[5] Unlike water from sanitary sewers which goes through a treatment plant before flowing into the harbour, storm sewer output reaches the harbour untreated
[6] Located on Woodward Avenue near the southeast corner of the harbour, it is the largest water treatment plant in the Hamilton Harbour watershed and one of the largest in Ontario
[7] The largest toxic sediment site on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, located near the south shore of the harbour roughly between Wentworth St and Sherman Ave