Fish kill on Kingston beach
LOK investigators find hundreds of dead fish near Kingston, ON. Details below.
Kingston's sewage saga nears half-century mark
Over the past few weeks I've been trying to understand why the city of Kingston has for years continued to dump untreated sewage directly into Lake Ontario. In order to try and understand the issue I went back and read every Kingston Whig-Standard article on the topic from 1955 till the present day; and while the city has come a long way, I'm not convinced that the city is doing enough to protect the safety of those who use the lake for swimming, boating, fishing, rowing, and of course, for drinking.
The city is not as bad as they were in the 1960's when they cut chlorination from their budget to save costs and coliform bacteria counts were as high as 890,000 per 100mL (the acceptable limit was 2,400), but it's not good enough to just be not quite as bad as you used to be when you are dealing with people's health.
For years politicians and bureaucrats have been aware of this problem, but have lacked the political or economic will to fix it instead electing to pass on the problem to the next generation. In 1973 the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) told the residents of Kingston that sewage is primarily a nutrient, and the Ontario Water Resources Commission noted that the effluent except in heavy rainfalls is pretty safe.
Do we want to accept "pretty safe" as the standard for our drinking water?
The quotes and empty promises continue right through 1979 when Peter Milley, MOE officer for Frontenac County said that I'd like to see things cleaned up in a hurry. Our function is to isolate these sources, to pinpoint them but more importantly to correct them; up to when former mayor Gary Bennett boasted in 1996 that the infrastructure of the community is critical to its health and that by the year 2000 Kingston would have the proper sewage infrastructure in place to last decades.
Armed with pages of horror stories and empty promises I sat down over the past week with Paul MacLatchy, the manager of the city's environmental services division, and Kevin Riley, the manager for Utilities kingston's treatment group, and asked them how a city like Kingston that depends so heavily on its waterfront to attract tourists can continue to neglect one of its key resources and at the same time jeopardize the health of its residents.
Mr. MacLatchy was quick to point out that his department has no control over when the sewage pumping stations bypass, and he was unable to comment on why the city (or the environmental services division) had not been able to curb the bypass incidents over the last two decades. While not able to comment on why the bypasses continue or why the upgrades have not been made, Mr. MacLatchy did point out that the city of Kingston is in the process of implementing its Pollution Control Planning Study, which it hopes to do by 2005.
Mr. Riley was able to provide me with more insight into how the spills actually occur and how the city's sewage infrastructure operates. I was astounded to learn that the city, in its downtown core, still lacks proper sewage piping and in places relies on rock beds of limestone (which are by no means watertight) to run the city's sewage into its trunk system. Equally surprising, Mr. Riley told me that as a rule of thumb the capacity of the pumping stations is exceeded anytime a precipitation event with the equivalent of 3cm 4cm of additional rainfall (within a 24 hour period) occurs. Like Mr. MacLatchy, Mr. Riley also emphasized that the city had a plan in place, that they were committed to their plan, and that for now sewage bypasses were a way of life in Kingston.
I left both of these meetings somewhat pleased to hear the city was committed to upgrading its infrastructure, but I was left with an unsatisfied feeling in my stomach because it was something the residents of Kingston have heard for years.
Despite my skepticism - or perhaps because of it - I still feel that it is important to have LOK out on the water, monitoring the status of local waterways and ensuring that pollutants don't illegally enter our lake. Last Friday, Eric and I spent the day visiting some pipes in the local area. We found some leachate at a few landfills that we will keep an eye on this summer, but that was nothing compared to the mass fish kill we found in the inner harbour.
In a stretch of about 100 meters outside of the Kingston Whig-Standard offices Eric and I counted over 180 dead fish washed up on the shore. Neither Eric or I had seen anything like it, and when we talked to some of the members of the rowing club that spend a lot of time in the harbour, they hadn?t seen anything like it before either. We immediately went and talked to some writers at the Whig-Standard, and an article appeared in Monday?s paper ("Sunfish dying in Cataraqui River").
-- Michael Douglas