In 2002-2003, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper sought to find whether a little-known provincial water quality goal (Procedure F-5-5) was protecting waterways from the impacts of combined sewer overflows and keeping our beaches clean enough for swimming.
65% of all samples included in study did not meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
79% of all samples taken by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper did not meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
Dry weather overflows still occur in 100% of the regions studied.
Only 9 of 32 CSO-impacted beaches met provincial safety standards for bathing beaches this summer.
The most contaminated discharge was found in Toronto's Warden Woods, where E. coli levels were 2,000 times higher than provincial water quality objectives.
The most contaminated surface water was found downstream of the Red Hill Cliff outfall in Hamilton, 53 times higher than provincial water quality objectives.
Contamination at just one beach in Sarnia accounts for 100% of the region's beach closings.
We looked at pipes, we found sewage
In 2002 and 2003, Waterkeeper visited six cities: Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Sarnia, and Kitchener/Waterloo. In each region, we conducted a survey of a region impacted by storm sewer and combined sewer overflows, sampled pipes and surface water for evidence of sewage pollution, and documented our work. Our sample results were compared to Provincial Water Quality Objectives, which serve as chemical and physical indicators representing a satisfactory level for surface water. The Objectives for recreational water uses are based on public health and aesthetic considerations. The PWQO for E. coli is 100 cfu/100 mL.
The City of Kingston's aging sewage system has been in the public spotlight for years. A major raw sewage spill in 2001 prompted an investigation by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, the Ministry of Environment, and the local media. The City is now undertaking a $73-million infrastructure upgrade program.
Since a number of the city's outfalls are located in areas not accessible to the public, Waterkeeper relied on sampling data obtained through a freedom of information request to the city. Of the 174 bacteria tests performed, 54% had E. Coli or Total Coliform levels above the Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
In the City of Toronto, Waterkeeper focused on the Don River. There are more than 1,000 sewage pipes flowing into the river, sending bacteria, metals, and other chemicals through the city’s core and into the Toronto Harbour. We visited the river nearly a dozen times in the last year, taking thirty-three samples. Of these thirty-three samples, thirty-two were positive for the presence of bacteria, and thirty-one contained bacteria levels significantly higher than Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
Of particular concern is the former satellite treatment site located on Taylor Massey Creek near Pharmacy Road and St. Clair. The CSO beside the deserted facility consistently dumps high levels of bacteria into Taylor Massey Creek: E. coli counts ranged as high as 200,000 cfu/ 100 mL, 2,000 times the PWQO.
The Red Hill Valley in Hamilton has similar problems. The Red Hill Creek runs through the valley and empties into the Hamilton Harbour - the only major greenspace in the city and the last of its fourteen creeks (the other thirteen have been buried). Environment Hamilton, who worked with Waterkeeper during the 2002 season, walked the entire length of the creek, taking 35 outfall and river samples. Of these, 80% exceeded PWQO guidelines for E. Coli.
The highest level of contamination was found at the Red Hill Cliff outfall: 160,000 cfu/100 mL. The Ministry of Environment has issued orders to the city to bring discharges into compliance with provincial law; the city has not conformed to these orders.
In St. Catharines, Waterkeeper focused on the Twelve Mile Creek. This beautiful creek runs through a valley, through the centre of town and empties into Lake Ontario. The city also has one of the notorious sewage pollution problems on the lake. Waterkeeper visited the city three times and, while we lost several samples during the August blackout, we found that every single pipe visited showed signs of sewage contamination: odours, garbage, staining, etc. 50% of our samples exceeded PWQO. The city also had more beach postings, on average, than any other city studied: all three beaches failed to meet the provincial standard.
Research in Sarnia is used as a kind of control, to establish a pattern of sewage pollution in regions not located on Lake Ontario. The city is located just south of Lake Huron on the St. Clair River. While Lake Huron's beaches were clean and open all of the swimming season, the St. Clair River has not fared so well. The area was declared an “Area of Concern” by Canada and the United States in 1985.
The main source of contamination appears to be the combined sewer outfall in the Northern Inlet. On each of Waterkeeper's three visits, we found people fishing in the inlet. They told us of regular discharges of raw sewage into the river, and our sample results confirmed the presence of alarming levels of bacteria: E. coli, 13,000 cfu/100 mL and 260,000 Total Coliform. Discharges and surface water upstream and downstream from Sarnia Bay are typically clean; it is just the Northern Inlet and the beach area just below it which suffer from serious sewage pollution. These areas are also the most popular public areas along the city’s waterfront.
Closed beaches keep people at bay
Of the 36 beaches studied by Waterkeeper, just 8 (22%) had waters clean enough to swim in at least 95% of the bathing season. This is the standard of F-5-5. The breakdowns of each region are as follows:
Toronto 93% of beaches failed to meet F-5-5 objectives
Hamilton 75% of beaches failed to meet F-5-5 objectives
St. Catharines 100% of beaches failed to meet F-5-5 objectives
St. Clair River 100% of beaches failed to meet F-5-5 objectives
Sarnia Region 14% of beaches failed to meet F-5-5 objectives
We saw that our waterbodies define our communities. They are the reason we have settled here. They are the reason we have prospered here. Public rights to access and fish from the lakes waters are the most ancient rights we have, and every day ? in every waterfront community in Ontario people enjoy these rights. This is the spirit of F-5-5. Waterfront communities such as Toronto, Hamilton, Sarnia, and St. Catharines possess enormous cultural and economic potential. This is the wealth F-5-5 could protect. With power, it will succeed.
The entire 23-page report is available in pdf format.