Government Information

Chedoke Creek Questions & Answers

Updated: December 4, 2019

In late November, the City of Hamilton informed the public about additional details of a combined sewage spill into Chedoke Creek. On November 28, Mayor Eisenberger and members of City Council issued a formal apology to the residents of Hamilton:

“We apologize to the residents of Hamilton for the failure to publicly disclose the volume and duration of the discharge of storm water runoff and sanitary sewage into Chedoke Creek when it first became known to the Council in 2018 and at subsequent Committee and Council meetings.” 

- Mayor Eisenberger and members of City Council

Background Information

In July 2018, the City of Hamilton informed the public that it had discovered that one of its combined sewer overflow tanks was discharging untreated wastewater into Chedoke Creek. The City immediately stopped the discharge and began clean-up activities in the area. Over the past year, the City has been working with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to investigate the incident. As this investigation is ongoing, the City had not previously shared detailed information about the spill. However, this Q&A shares additional information.

Most Common Questions


1. What has the City done to date in response to the spill in Chedoke Creek?

In response to the discharge, the City has taken a number of actions toward addressing the impacts of the spill. Upon discovering the source of the spill on July 18, 2018, the City:

  • Immediately reported the spill to the MECP’s Spills Action Centre.
  • Immediately informed the public that it had discovered the spill via two media releases; July 12, 2018 and July 18, 2018.
  • Upon locating the source of the spill and immediately stopping it, undertook a number of steps to clean up the creek including removing 242,000 litres of “floatable material” from the surface and edge of the creek.
  • Initiated regular monitoring of the water quality in impacted areas of Chedoke Creek. Within only a few weeks after stopping the spill, sample results showed a dramatic decrease in E.coli levels with a return to levels similar to those seen before the discharge.
  • Initiated and completed enhanced inspections of wastewater facilities and equipment. 

2. What is the current water quality in Chedoke Creek?

By August 2018 the water quality in Chedoke Creek had returned to its pre-spill conditions and, as the public is aware, the watercourse has had long-standing advisories posted to inform the public of high E.coli levels. Chedoke Creek is an urban watercourse, which means it collects storm water runoff and discharges from the City’s combined sewer overflow tanks during large storm events. Since the spill came to the attention of the City, staff have continued to monitor water quality of Chedoke Creek. Ongoing monitoring continues to demonstrate the substantial improvement in water quality conditions that took place within a few weeks of stopping the discharge. The odours also dissipated quite quickly. Within weeks, water sample results showed a dramatic decrease in E.coli levels with results returning to levels similar to those seen before the discharge.

3. Are there current health concerns with using Chedoke Creek for recreational purposes?

Public Health Services continues to recommend against using the urban watercourse linked to Chedoke Creek for primary-contact recreational water activities (such as swimming and wading) or secondary-contact recreational water activities (such as canoeing or fishing). E.coli levels in Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways have chronically and consistently exceeded federal recommended levels for any contact with the water, including swimming, wading, paddling, fishing and, as such, the area has had warning signs posted for many years prior to this event because of the historically degraded water quality. These signs are expected to remain in place indefinitely.

4. Why did the City not share details about the volume/duration of the spill publicly before November 20, 2019?

In July 2018, the City of Hamilton informed the public that it had discovered that one of its combined sewer overflow tanks was discharging untreated wastewater into Chedoke Creek via two media releases; July 12, 2018 and July 18, 2018, and immediately reported it to the MECP’s Spills Action Centre. The City immediately stopped the discharge and began clean-up activities in the area. The City didn’t provide additional details to the public because the matter was and continues to be the subject of an ongoing investigation by the MECP’s Investigations & Enforcement Branch. The City does not comment or provide information when there are on ongoing investigations except in circumstances where it is important for the public to know information because there is a risk to public health.

Additional Questions

City staff began investigating reports of odours near Chedoke Creek in July 2018. Public Health Services notified the MECP on July 9, 2018 regarding rising levels of E.coli and concern about the visual state of Chedoke Creek. While the source was not yet known, on July 12, 2018 Public Health Services issued a media release to warn the public to avoid any contact with Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways.  Staff in Hamilton Water discovered the source of the spill on July 18, 2018 and immediately reported it to MECP’s Spills Action Centre, and has since been working with them in their investigation. Investigations have determined that the spill began on January 28, 2014.

Over the course of a four-and-a-half-year period, the City estimated that approximately 24 billion litres of combined storm water runoff and sanitary sewage was discharged into Chedoke Creek. This represents approximately four per cent of the annual volume of flow to Hamilton’s wastewater treatment plants.

The spill was immediately stopped once discovered on July 18, 2018. Upon learning of the spill, the City notified the public and the media about the spill and to avoid coming into contact with the water in Chedoke Creek. A media release published on July 18, 2018 advises residents about the cause of the spill. Additional warning signs were installed near Chedoke Creek to advise people of the high bacterial levels and to avoid any contact with the water.

Investigations have determined that the spill was the result of two separate malfunctions at the Main/King combined sewer overflow tank. First, a station bypass gate in the combined sewer overflow tank that should have been in a closed position appears to have been manually opened to approximately five per cent on January 28, 2014. An error in computer programming showed this as normal operation and, as such, this error remained undetected until July 2018. Additionally, a second gate that should have remained in the open position experienced a mechanical failure in January 2018. The sensor on this piece of equipment did not pick up the failure and was reporting normal operation. Despite extensive investigations, the City has not been able to determine why the first bypass gate had been opened in January 2014.

Through the City’s technology that monitors the wastewater system, it is clear the gate was manually opened on January 28, 2014. However, despite extensive investigations, the City has been unable to determine why this bypass gate was opened. It is possible that the MECP may find additional information through the course of its investigation.

No reported illnesses (i.e. gastro-intestinal infections) have been found by Public Health Services to be associated with contact to Chedoke Creek or linked watercourses.

The most recent edition of Health Canada's Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality states that currently no scientific evidence exists showing that secondary-contact recreational water activities (such as canoeing or fishing) leads to people becoming ill.  In addition, Health Canada recognizes that secondary-contact recreational water activities are usually associated with a much lower degree of exposure to the water and, as such, would be expected to be associated with a lower risk of illness.  Because of the lack of evidence regarding the bacterial levels associated with increased risk of illness, Health Canada developed its current guideline for secondary-contact recreational water activities by multiplying the limits for primary-contact recreational water activities (such as swimming and wading) by five to develop a limit of 2,000 per 100 ml.  While there is currently very little evidence that secondary-contact recreational water activities increase the risk of human illness, in response to Hamilton Council’s recent motion, Public Health Services has begun a detailed examination of several health data bases to determine if there is any evidence of an increase in human illness associated with the combined sewer overflow tank spill and resulting increased bacterial levels in Chedoke Creek.  Once completed, the results of that analysis will be reported to Hamilton Council.

Public Health Services continues to recommend against using the urban watercourse linked to Chedoke Creek for both primary-contact recreational water activities (such as swimming or wading) and secondary-contact recreational water activities (such as canoeing or fishing). E.coli levels in Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways have chronically and consistently exceeded federal recommended levels for any contact with the water, including swimming, wading, paddling, fishing and, as such, the area has had warning signs posted for many years prior to this event because of the historically degraded water quality. The warning signs currently posted around Chedoke Creek and related waterways are expected to remain in place indefinitely.

Yes, Public Health Services notified the MECP on July 9, 2018 regarding rising levels of E.coli and concern about the apparent contamination of Chedoke Creek. On July 12, 2018, Public Health Services issued a media release to warn the public to avoid any contact with Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways. Staff in Hamilton Water discovered the source of the spill on July 18, 2018 and immediately reported it to MECP’s Spills Action Centre.

For many years, the Royal Botanical Gardens have had signs posted in the area of Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise advising the public of high E.coli levels in the water. Upon discovering the spill in July 2018, Public Health Services installed additional signage advising the public to avoid any contact with the water in and around Chedoke Creek. Subsequently, in 2019, updated signage was installed at Chedoke Creek with more robust information regarding the high E.coli levels and information regarding avoiding contact with the water in the area of Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise.

In response to the discharge, the City has taken a number of actions toward addressing the impacts. These actions include:

  • Initiated and completed enhanced inspections of all combined sewer overflow facilities and an inventory of all critical valves and control points to ensure operations of these facilities are working as designed.
  • Reviewed and revised the procedures that inform the City’s response in the event of a spill.
  • Chedoke Creek is an urban watercourse, which means it collects a combination of storm water runoff and discharges from the City’s combined sewer overflow tanks during large storm events. Public Health Services recommends against using the urban watercourse linked to Chedoke Creek for both primary-contact recreational water activities (such as swimming or wading) and secondary-contact recreational water activities (such as canoeing or fishing). E.coli levels in Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways have chronically and consistently exceeded federal recommended levels for any contact with the water, including swimming, wading, paddling, fishing and, as such, the area has had warning signs posted for many years prior to this event because of the historically degraded water quality. The current warning signs around Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise are expected to remain in place indefinitely.
  • Retaining a licensed external qualified consultant to review the environmental impacts of the discharge and make recommendations around the most effective mitigation and remediation efforts in the Creek. This work has also been peer-reviewed by a second consultant. At this time, the consultants have indicated that further investigation is required.

At this time, the City is continuing to work with the MECP to determine what impacts remain in Chedoke Creek due to the discharge, and what work, if any, is required for remediation/mitigation. To assist that work, the City has retained a licensed external qualified consultant to review the environmental impacts of the discharge and make recommendations around the most effective mitigation and remediation efforts in the Creek. This work has also been peer-reviewed by a second consultant. At this time, the consultants have indicated that further investigation is required. As such, details about remediation/mitigation are still to be determined.

Older cities like Hamilton often have a “combined sewer system” where a single sewer pipe collects and handles both the storm water runoff and sanitary sewage directly from households. The discharge into Chedoke Creek was a combination of storm water runoff and sanitary sewage.

Video Combined sewer systems

The Main/King combined sewer overflow tank is located in Cathedral Park at 707 King St W.

On November 4, 2019, the City launched the first phase of an enhanced notification protocol for informing the public about bypasses at the wastewater treatment plant or at combined sewer overflow locations.  Phase one includes notifications on the City’s website if there is a bypass at the wastewater treatment plant. Phase two will launch in spring 2020 and will include automated notifications for bypasses at the treatment plant, and overflows at the City’s 14 monitored combined sewer overflow outfall locations. www.hamilton.ca/WastewaterMonitoring.

City staff published two media releases about the spill into Chedoke Creek in July 2018. As is the usual process, Council received copies of those releases. A number of confidential updates have gone to Council since then.

City Council as a group is not involved in the investigation. The investigation is led by the MECP.

Reports to Council contain legal content and legal opinions and are subject to solicitor-client privilege.  Solicitor-client privilege is a protection afforded to legal advice and communications with legal counsel.  It protects against disclosure of information, and production of such information cannot be compelled under the law.  The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed the importance of solicitor-client privilege and that legal privilege must be protected to ensure the integrity of the justice system.  There are significant implications and concerns associated with the waiver of privilege, including the ability to preserve other related privileged information; maintaining the solicitor-client relationship; and the ability to secure independent legal opinions and advice.  Privilege is not waived if information is obtained and released to a third party without express authority or waiver from the client.  In addition to preserving privilege, disclosure of information may interfere with or influence an ongoing regulatory investigation which is to be avoided to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process.

Chedoke Creek is an urban watercourse, which means it collects and combination of storm water runoff and discharges from the City’s combined sewer overflow tanks during large storm events. It is also located directly beside Hwy 403 and close to an old landfill. Public Health Services recommends against using the urban watercourse linked to Chedoke Creek for both primary-contact recreational water activities (such as swimming or wading) and secondary-contact recreational water activities (such as canoeing or fishing). E.coli levels in Chedoke Creek and adjoining waterways have chronically and consistently exceeded federal recommended levels for any contact with the water, including swimming, wading, paddling, fishing and, as such, the area has had warning signs posted for many years prior to this event because of the historically degraded water quality. The current warning signs are expected to remain in place indefinitely.

Combined sewers have one pipe that collects both wastewater from our homes and businesses, and storm water from rain or melted snow. When there is a lot of rain or melting snow, the additional volume of water in the combined sewers can exceed the capacity of the system. To help, from the 1980s through to 2010, the City built nine large storage tanks in strategic locations across the city to hold excess water during heavy rainfall. These combined sewer overflow tanks hold more than 314,000 cubic metres of diluted wastewater. During extreme wet weather events, the combined sewer overflow tanks will fill and store the excess water. If the tanks reach their full capacity, they will overflow. If the combined sewer system didn’t have the designed overflow option to release wastewater to the Harbour, large areas of Hamilton would experience flooding -  which would impact homes, businesses, roadways, public spaces and, potentially, the public’s health.

Video Combined sewer systems

While information about the spill was shared confidentially with Hamilton City Council prior to November 20, 2019, the City didn’t provide additional details to the public or our partners such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Environment Hamilton or the Bay Area Restoration Council because the matter was and continues to be an ongoing investigation by the MECP’s Investigations & Enforcement Branch.

  • Council has directed staff to develop a policy regarding titled “Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination” to support proactively disclosing information and documents, based on the principles of Access by Design. This policy is coming to the Audit, Finance & Administration Committee for review on December 5.
  • Council has directed staff to develop a policy and/or protocol to guarantee sharing of consultant’s reports with Council when there are risks to human health and safety. This policy is coming for review in January.
  • In January, Council will also review a policy and/or protocol to Council for all Federal and Provincial Ministry or Provincial Officer Orders that are received by management or staff. These orders will be shared with City Council and copies displayed in a prominent place on the City website.
  • On November 4, 2019, the City launched the first phase of an enhanced notification protocol for informing the public about bypasses at the wastewater treatment plant. Phase one includes notifications on the City’s website if there is a bypass at the wastewater treatment plant. Last night, Council also added public notification for the City’s 14 monitored combined sewer overflow outfall locations to phase one of the enhanced protocol. Phase two will launch in spring 2020 and will include automated notifications for bypasses at the treatment plant, and overflows at the City’s 14 monitored combined sewer overflow outfall locations.
  • As part of the 2020 Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Budget, Council added four additional staff to improve the routine physical inspection and preventative maintenance programs for Hamilton Water Infrastructure including water and wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations, and combined sewer overflow tanks; and one Water Quality Technologist to sample and analyze water and wastewater quality.
  • In the last 30 years, the City built nine combined sewage overflow facilities that can store the equivalent of 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of combined sewage during wet weather – these tanks help to protect public and private infrastructure and properties (particularly basements) from sewer backups, surcharges and overflows.
  • The City has been working to implement sensors and information systems that help staff make data-based decisions around directing the flow of wastewater during wet weather. The real time control program allows for the capture of optimal amounts of wastewater within the system to ensure unnecessary discharges during severe weather do not occur.  The Real Time Control program allows staff to monitor various gates, tanks, and other key areas to make real time decisions related to which areas of the system have capacity to hold wastewater prior to discharging into the environment. Phase one of implementing the Real Time Control program began in 2010 and is now complete. Phase two is in the detailed design phase and will be implemented in the coming years.
  • The largest investment of the Clean Harbour program is a multi-phase plan to upgrade the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant. Because the plant is the largest single source of water flowing into Hamilton Harbour, the quality of that effluent has a direct and powerful impact on the harbour’s water quality and environmental health. The total budget for the upgrades is $340 million, $200 million of which comes from the provincial and federal governments through the Green Infrastructure Fund. The upgrades include elevating the plant’s final treatment process from the secondary level to the tertiary (third) level. This will allow the plant to reach strict discharge limits described by the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan for phosphorus, ammonia and suspended solids. Sub-projects at the Woodward plant include electrical system upgrades, a new chlorine tank and a new raw sewage pumping station and collection system control to support wet weather and flooding control initiatives
  • The Sewer Lateral Cross-Connection Program was initiated to identify and correct plumbing deficiencies that exist when a property’s sanitary lateral is improperly connected to a storm sewer.  These sewer lateral cross connections are typically present from the time the house is built and left uncorrected, results in sanitary waste discharging directly into the city’s watercourses. To date, the City has identified and corrected over 365 cross- connections.  This translates into more than 65 million litres of wastewater diverted away from the natural environment and into the sewage treatment system each year. 
  • A research study was undertaken as a part of the Clean Harbour Program with respect to floatables found in Hamilton Harbour. The study includes a baseline assessment of the City’s wastewater infrastructure, an evaluation of current performance and identifies best practices and offers recommendations to reduce the presence of floatable materials reaching the harbour.  The study is still ongoing and results will be presented to the Public Works Committee in the first quarter of 2020.

Chronology

This brief chronology outlines when the Mayor and Members of Council were apprised of the Chedoke Creek spill, and the method of that reporting (Committee or Council), the type of this report (written or verbal) and media releases from July 2018 to present. 

  • July 12, 2018 - First media release
  • July 18, 2018 - Second media release
  • July 27, 2018 - Formal Information Update sent to Council
  • August 13, 2018 - Formal report at GIC
  • September 26, 2018 - Verbal update at Council
  • January 16, 2019 - Formal report at GIC
  • June 19, 2019 - Formal report at GIC
  • September 4, 2019 - Formal report at GIC
  • October 16, 2019 - Formal report at GIC
  • November 20, 2019 - Verbal update at GIC
  • November 20, 2019 - Third media release
  • November 27, 2019 – Formal reports (2) at Council
  • November 28, 2019 – Fourth media release