I am. Thank you very much.
As you say, my name is Chris Murray and I'm the city manager of the City of Hamilton. I'm an urban planner by training and an environmental planner by profession.
As you well know, Hamilton harbour has been an area of concern for the city of Hamilton for quite some time. In fact, research on Hamilton harbour dates back to the 1960s where the upper levels of government as well as institutions were focused on the challenges that we are facing.
The harbour itself is about 2,100 hectares in size. It's surrounded by two major steel mills as well as a number of other industries in the area and there are three waste water plants that empty into the harbour.
In 1974 under the International Joint Commission work it was deemed to be a problem area. Further to that, in 1987 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement it was deemed to be an area of concern. “It was deemed to be a pollution hot spot”. It was at that time that the Hamilton harbour RAP was officially created and an entity was formed to start to work with the community on making improvements in that area. At the time, Hamilton harbour, when compared to the other 16 hot spots that were identified in Canada, was deemed to be the most polluted.
What we have right now are three waste water facilities that empty about half of their flow into the harbour. The other half comes from the watershed.
If you look back over the years, there has been significant investment made into abatement measures in the Hamilton harbour area. You go back, from about 1990 to 2010 a total of about $1.2 billion has been invested in remediation measures. About 80% of that money has come from the local industry and community, 20% has come from the provincial and federal governments. It has really been in the last few years where the remaining $800 million is being spent on major upgrades, the tertiary treatment to our waste water facilities, that you see a sharing of the responsibility among the federal, provincial, and local governments. Of that $800 million being spent right now, about $460,000 is being spent on two waste water treatment facilities. Work on the one in Halton is going to be finished in 2015 and the work on our own Hamilton plant will be finished in 2019.
We are also engaged in a P3 with the federal government regarding our biosolids and we're looking for ways in which we can treat and dispose of that material in a more effective manner.
A considerable amount of work has been going on. We see ourselves in a position that by about 2020 we should begin the delisting process—be able to actually remove ourselves as to one of the areas of concern within the Great Lakes. This, of course, does not happen without the support of the federal government and the provincial government, certainly over the 30 years that we've been investing time and energy into this area, and so for that we certainly thank the federal government for its effort.
Maybe the most important part is, if we look at how we have been able to over the last 30 years achieve the progress we have, what are the best practices, what have we learned from this whole process? First and foremost, don't pollute your environment is probably a good start.
Aside from that, what we have benefited from.... Those who know Hamilton know that this very small area of land has had such a tremendous impact on people's perceptions of Hamilton. The fact is that, as polluted as it was, it is now being cleaned up, so that it not only generates a wonderful environment and an environmental legacy for us, but I would say it is certainly helping to change the tides of Hamilton in terms of attracting businesses and other investments in that community. Our image is shaped by this small piece of land, but the fact is, Hamilton is 50% agricultural. It's also one of the communities in Canada that boasts the most waterfalls.
This has had a tremendous impact on us, but so has the government's involvement and the scientific community. We enjoy having the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters on our shore. It has been those scientists who have really over the last several decades, the federal government scientists....
In fact, your own environment ministry has been key to our success in shaping not only the actions that have been taken but the monitoring that has gone on. I would say to you that without the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, I really seriously doubt we would be as far along as we are to being able to delist ourselves from that contamination stigma.
With that and the Hamilton harbour remedial action plan, which was formally launched in 1987....
John, sitting with me today, is an environmental planner as well. He has been leading that charge for the last decade or so, and is obviously quite knowledgeable.
But I will say to you that it's been that engagement of our community, of our scientists, and of all levels of government that over the last two decades has sustained the effort and that arguably has been the reason why we have been successful at getting about $2 billion worth of investment in this part of Hamilton.
The Hamilton harbour RAP is made up of essentially two groups, the Bay Area Restoration Council, which is a public body, and the bay area implementation team, which is really a group of scientists and government workers who are really the counterbalance to BARC. Those two groups have been key to our being able to not only focus on the problems and come up with solutions but also monitor to make sure that progress is being made and to keep government interested in the topic.
With that, the focus right now is on the two major water and waste water plants. We're going to spend about $160 million on those two plants. The focus from there, though, going forward, will now shift from, not the point sources of contaminants but really into the watershed. That is an area, obviously, that I have a lot of concern about in terms of the urbanization of that watershed. With all the storms we have been experiencing in Hamilton and all the flooding, I can tell you that our local council is very much interested in trying to address some of the stormwater issues we experience. We have an opportunity to deal with the phosphorus and sedimentation that's contributing to the problems we see in the harbour. Looking forward, that is our next area of conquest, I think, to try to address those issues as well.
At the end of the day, I know that this is a committee focused on water quality, but I can say that not just from an ecological standpoint is it important; from Hamilton's own image, and its changing image, I can tell you that it's equally important as an economic driver for us. It's part of the reason why our economy is I think becoming as diverse as it is.
Those are my comments.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I want to thank you for inviting me and for the opportunity to testify on the water quality of the Great Lakes.
I am, as noted, the executive director of engineering and construction services for the City of Toronto, responsible for engineering design and construction for all of the water, waste water, stormwater, and transportation infrastructure in the City of Toronto. This is as a result of a recent promotion last year. Previous to that I was the director of water infrastructure management for the city and so have overarching responsibility for infrastructure planning, dealing with all the water, waste water, and stormwater infrastructure in the City of Toronto.
I've led a number of environmental stewardship initiatives, including on climate change adaptation and a strategy to help reduce the risk and impact of flooding from extreme events and the development of the City of Toronto's innovative wet weather flow master plan, which I'll get into in some detail. The plan itself was aimed at addressing such water quality impacts as storm sewer and combined sewer overflow discharges, ultimately to improve water quality within the city's six watersheds and along the 43-kilometre waterfront, which includes 11 waterfront beaches. The ultimate objective of the plan, while aimed at improving water quality, was really directed at delisting Toronto as an area of concern in the Great Lakes basin.
As an aside, I am a professional engineer, having spent most of my professional career dealing with matters and projects on the Great Lakes.
I'd like to provide now a bit of background concerning the context for the city of Toronto and its dubious distinction as one of the AOCs in the Great Lakes basin. That started back in 1987 with identification by the International Joint Commission. To give a few facts about Toronto, it has a population of 2.7 million. The area of the city is 640 square kilometres. The principal land use is residential, about 45%. One thing we take for granted is that about 23% of our land area is open space and natural.
About 30% of the land area, which is really in the older area of the city, is serviced by combined sewers. That's a single pipe that carries both raw sewage and stormwater runoff when it rains. Inherent in the way these systems were configured back in the late 1800s and up to about 1950 is that during heavy rains there's a spillage of combined sewer overflow, as we call it. It's a mixture of raw sewage and stormwater runoff. We have about 80 outfalls across the city, 34 of which discharge to Lake Ontario.
The rest of the city is serviced by separated storm and sanitary sewers. When it rains, the stormwater runoff is discharged through 2,600 storm sewer outfalls, 70 of which are located along our waterfront. The remainder basically dot the ravine systems. We have six watersheds across the city. We have about 10,000 kilometres of sewer pipes, some of which date back to the mid- to late-1800s, so we have a significant infrastructure backlog, both in terms of sewers and water mains as well as our treatment facilities.
One of the things we often forget about is our green infrastructure. We have about 370 kilometres of water courses. These are open channels, if you will, but they are part of our ravine system and part of our natural heritage.
I should highlight at this point that because combined sewer overflows contain raw sewage, much of the attention was directed historically across Ontario to dealing with the discharge of combined sewer overflows, particularly where the discharge impacted a beach area.
Fast forward a bit into the mid-1980s. The U.S. EPA as well as the Ontario Ministry of the Environment undertook a number of studies to look at the characterization of wet weather flows, in which they were looking at the makeup of storm sewers and combined sewer overflows. Curiously enough, coming out of the very fulsome and detailed technical assessments, what they found was that the water quality— the chemical constituents—in stormwater was very similar to that for combined sewer overflows for many contaminants.
The data are very variable, so that statistically speaking, when you compare the concentration in storm sewers with that of combined sewer overflows, they are statistically speaking similar, save for a few parameters such as bacteria and some of the nutrients, which for combined sewer overflows are higher, notably because of raw sewage. But for most water quality parameters they are similar.
I want to dwell on the bacteria piece for just a second. The Ontario provincial water quality objective for bathing beaches is 100 counts of E. coli per 100 millilitres. The concentration in combined sewer overflows is typically about a million counts, and in stormwater, it's typically on the order of a few hundred thousand counts. So in both cases, you're three to four orders of magnitude higher than where you need to be to protect those beach areas for swimming. The bottom line is that if we're going to get serious about water pollution in the Great Lakes basin, and certainly in the near-shore, we have to deal with stormwater runoff as well, in addition to combined sewer overflows.
In 1987 the International Joint Commission or IJC identified Toronto as an area of concern, largely dealing with the impacts of the impaired beneficial uses associated specifically with the discharges of combined sewer overflows and storm sewers. These discharges not only impaired water quality but aquatic biota and fisheries, sediment quality, and benthic invertebrates. They contributed to fish consumption advisories, loss of fish habitat, and nutrient enrichment, which also contributed to nuisance algal growth.
I noted earlier that most of the action had focused on projects specific to sewer discharges in a localized area. In 1998 the City of Toronto amalgamated six local municipalities with one regional government. That basically provided the necessary framework to deal with stormwater in an integrated way and led to the development of the city's wet weather flow master plan. The plan was innovative on a number of fronts. One is that it was a watershed-based plan extending across all six watersheds. I need to highlight that all of the watersheds except one extend well beyond the city limits, but the city undertook this on a watershed basis, in the way that you need to do to deal with stormwater across all six watersheds.
It also used a hierarchical approach to looking at stormwater, meaning that we looked at a number of options, beginning at the source. Where rain falls onto an individual lot or property, what are the kinds of things we could do to reduce stormwater runoff or improve water quality? One of the basic things is the disconnection of roof downspouts from our sewer system.
Then we looked at the conveyance system within the municipal road allowance. What could we do there to do much the same thing? Options that we considered looked, for example, at introducing leaky pipes instead of the conventional plastic or concrete pipes for stormwater runoff, to basically let the stormwater infiltrate into the ground in order to try to re-establish some of the natural hydrologic cycle.
Then ultimately, for what you couldn't achieve at source or within the conveyance system, you have “end of pipe”. We looked across the entire city at open space opportunities where we might be able to construct a stormwater pond or wetland. As well, we looked in the downtown core, where we are space-constrained—there is no open space available—and had to bite the bullet and look at underground storage systems, such as underground tanks or storage tunnels.
The development of the plan relied on computer simulation modelling, so we were looking at “what if” scenarios and at what the expected improvements would be in water quality within our watersheds. We had a whole lake model, which looked at the impacts of the watersheds and the sewers so far as the waterfront area of the city was concerned, as a way of helping us to direct the final outcome of the planning and assess the pros and cons of the various options. One of the factors was cost, obviously, and the timeframe for implementation. The plan was undertaken in accordance with the Province of Ontario's Environmental Assessment Act, with fulsome public consultation, including consultation with such stakeholders as the approving agencies, through the entire process.
Here are some of the salient outcomes of the plan.
Mandatory downspout disconnection was one. The city took the bull by the horns and mandated the disconnection of all residential roof areas from the city system in a phased approach, so that by the year 2016 some 350,000 properties will have their downspouts disconnected.
About 20% of the city is serviced by roadside ditches.There is a requirement to maintain the existing roadside ditch system, because we recognize the hydrologic as well as the water quality function of the system.
Then in the longer term we identified areas in the city in which there would be an opportunity to install these leaky pipe systems as the city renews its aging infrastructure. Then ultimately, at the end of the system we identified across the city opportunities for about 170 green facilities or stormwater ponds or wetland areas.
Unfortunately, where we were space-constrained we had to bite the bullet and go underground, with underground storage systems, tanks, and tunnels, and so we identified 16 combined sewer overflow facilities and 27 stormwater facilities underground.
While we have already constructed a number of these facilities, arguably the most significant project that we have under way is what we call the Don River and central waterfront project. From our standpoint, the implementation of that project will, we hope, ultimately lead to the delisting of Toronto as an area of concern.
The project deals with most of the remaining combined sewer overflows in the city—about 50 of them in total—and involves the construction of an interconnected deep tunnel system 23 kilometres long, located largely along the lower Don River and right across our central waterfront area.There are 15 underground storage shafts, each approximately 30 metres in diameter and about 50 metres deep that, in conjunction with the deep tunnels, will store about 570,000 cubic metres of wet weather flow.
An innovative high-rate treatment facility based on the technology we've been testing with our colleagues at Environment Canada over the last decade would be constructed abutting our Ashbridges Bay sewage treatment plant.
The flows from this integrated storage system would be treated through this high-rate treatment facility, ultraviolet disinfection, and discharged to Lake Ontario.
We've undertaken computer simulation modelling based on all of the work that we've done. We feel we can achieve water quality improvements to the inner harbour, which was really where the designation of the AOC for Toronto all began. Most of the inner harbour would meet international blue flag criteria for swimming beaches if the City of Toronto opted for the creation of swimming areas in the inner harbour.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I greatly appreciate this opportunity to speak with you today.
I am the executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which is a coalition of 112 U.S. and Canadian cities, representing about 17 million people across the basin. The focus of our work is on the protection, restoration, and long-term sustainability of the world's premier freshwater resource.
We are particularly fortunate in Canada and the United States to have a long tradition of working together, embodied originally in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, which more specifically was translated into the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, originally in 1972.
Because of the international nature of this resource, it is absolutely essential that we work together in harmony between the U.S. and Canada, and our organization is fully committed to that principle.
Under the water quality agreement, as has been referenced by the earlier speakers, there were areas of concern designated by both countries. Originally there was a total of 42—one was added to make 43 later—with 12 in Canada, and we share 5 jointly. It was the consensus then that these were the locations that were the most contaminated, and as their name suggests, the primary areas of concern. A tremendous amount of attention, time, and energy is put on them.
Canada is to be commended because three of yours have been completely cleaned up and delisted, and one is what's called “an area of recovery”. We haven't done quite so well on the U.S. side. In terms of the remaining ones, the two cities represented here have the distinction of probably having the biggest challenges: Toronto and region, and Hamilton harbour. Again, a lot of the experience in the past and the plans for the future, I think, are very impressive and cause for optimism.
The ones that we need to be working on together between the U.S. and Canada are the Detroit River, the St. Clair River, and the Saint Mary's River. If you look at these beneficial use impairments, those are the ones that have the most impairment and will require a great deal of cooperation and collaboration to accomplish the ultimate delisting. Thunder Bay and the Bay of Quinte are two other locations where there is particular concern.
The strategies and practices that have been developed under these areas of concern, and the remedial action plans, have advanced significantly over the past 25 years.
First of all, with regard to management of contaminated sediments—and as you've heard, there's a big issue with Hamilton harbour—that were basically caused by industrial and municipal discharges over the years, there are three basic strategies. First is completely taking them out, removing the contaminated sediments and disposing of them off site. Second is collecting them but disposing of them in a secure location on site, or, third, capping them in place where there's lower contamination. That has really advanced significantly, and particularly the means of hydraulically dredging the material. It's basically like a big vacuum cleaner, and rather than digging in with a shovel and spreading it all over, they suck it out. It causes very little broader contamination.
These types of developments have occurred over the years, and I think both Hamilton harbour and Toronto will benefit from them.
Another major source of contamination has been municipal waste water and stormwater. I might say that Mr. D'Andrea is recognized for his excellence in this work, and I think Toronto has set an excellent example for across the basin.
Infrastructure improvements and advancements in treatment technology and management practices, like these tunnels and reservoirs, are really the ways we can deal with this problem more effectively in the future.
Stormwater, as has been mentioned, can be contaminated both from surface runoff and when combined with other sewers to cause pollution and the like.
Again, progress is being made on both of these fronts.
The added factor now is this green infrastructure approach. There is a lot of optimism about that for the future. There is not as much certainty about what kind of results you can get from it, but lot of good work has been done in that area.
Directly related to this stormwater runoff problem is climate change. I can tell you, from our members, and across the basin on the Canadian side, Thunder Bay, Wawa, Goderich, Mississauga, Hamilton, and Toronto have been hit by incredibly intense precipitation events. The damage to the infrastructure, in addition to the difficulty in managing the water itself, is a huge challenge for everyone across the basin. Some places don't have enough water, we've got too much all at one time. Figuring out how to deal with that is a real challenge.
Our organization, with some assistance and funding from the Province of Ontario, has launched what we call a municipal adaptation and resilience service, where we are trying to take best practices and best technology and best information from across the basin and provide it to our 112 cities so that they can essentially leapfrog technology and move ahead.
Another problem, an area of concern, and you may have heard about it today, relating to Lake Erie are the nutrients, specifically phosphorus, and the resulting algal blooms and the hypoxia, which is essentially a dead zone in the lake. I know on the Canadian side there is an important commercial fishery on the north side, and on the Ohio side there is a recreational fishery.
Just today, the International Joint Commission has come out with some very significant recommendations about the reductions that need to be achieved. It's not going to be easy. It will be controversial, but the technology is there. What's most important is the will of the people and the will of the governments to forge ahead with that.
I feel obligated to talk just briefly about a problem that isn't normally thought of as a water quality problem, but in fact is, indirectly, and sometimes directly, and that is invasive species. I think you may know that Asian carp are knocking on the door of the Great Lakes in my hometown of Chicago. I've spent a good part of the last three years trying to figure out how we can get a consensus around how to keep them out. We're making some good progress on that but it's critically important. This is causing tremendous damage to the Great Lakes. Our two governments together spend $20 million to $30 million a year just dealing with sea lampreys. It's a huge problem and we need to deal more effectively with it.
One of the mechanisms that helps us work more effectively on the Canadian side is the Canada-Ontario agreement. Now that we have a water quality agreement it's very important that agreement be finalized between the province and the federal government. Then we work with Ontario and we have a memorandum of understanding so that we can integrate local government work with provincial and federal government work.
Gentlemen and ladies, thank you again very much for the invitation and the opportunity to speak. I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Perhaps to provide a bit of context, it's not unique to Toronto. We've experienced a number of extreme weather events over the last number of years. In Toronto, the history goes back to about the mid-1980s. In August of 2005, we had the biggest storm since our regional storm, Hurricane Hazel, in 1954. We had over 4,500 instances of basement flooding. It forced us through our council to take a very critical and hard-nosed look at our infrastructure because the initial feeling was that it was old infrastructure, and that basically it was just not able to deal with this. It was dilapidated infrastructure.
As we did our detailed reviews, there was nothing wrong with the infrastructure. The infrastructure in the areas that were most impacted was built in the 1950s and 1960s. In Toronto, that's some of the newest infrastructure that we have. It simply wasn't designed for these extreme storms.
I'll throw some numbers out, and I apologize. We designed our storm drainage systems back in the fifties and sixties for a one-in-two-year to a one-in-five-year return storm, a storm that you would expect to see every five years, for example. That storm, August 2005, was in excess of a one-in-100-year storm. One of the things that we found was that during that period, and this is not unique to Toronto, we developed just as quickly as we could get approvals and we could get the servicing in place, so in the Toronto context we have what I'd call a series of soup bowls, and we have houses in those soup bowls. If you're at the bottom of the soup bowl, then once that sewer system is overloaded, it's going to begin to flood, and as a result of that flood, water ends up in our sanitary sewer system, and then it basically backs up into people's basements.
Council directed us to provide a much higher level of service, to a one-in-100-year storm. It's the level of service that we provide for new development in the province of Ontario. You can imagine what it would take in terms of infrastructure to intercept that storm volume that otherwise would have just ponded in the middle of that urban centre. It's unbelievable. It's massive. We have very little room to put stormwater ponds because there isn't much green space in these areas. You're looking at twinning-pipes underground storage systems.
To be very brief, we're wholly supportive of green infrastructure, but when you look at green infrastructure, you can probably intercept maybe 5 mm to 10 mm of rainfall. The storm that we were dealing with was 150 mm, so you need much more than green. Green helps, but it doesn't get to the root cause of one of these major storms.
The fact is we're seeing these storms more frequently than we have before. It's incumbent upon us to do something about it, but it requires an infusion of funding for that.
That I understand. I want to thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm just visiting so we have a farmer talking to a lawyer. I would like just to chat with you, Mr. Ullrich.
I'm glad that you brought up phragmites. My riding comes along Lake Huron and before it gets to the St. Clair River it goes into my colleague's riding. I pick up a little bit of the St. Clair River before it gets to Lake St. Clair. The phragmites, particularly in Lake Huron in one of my areas, are a huge concern. Roundup does get it but it's the process you've got to go through to get it. I was just going to ask you how you're working with municipalities and the provinces to be able to expedite some process, because it's doing just as you said, it is choking everything out. This stuff can grow 20 feet high. It is a very invasive species. I'll leave that right now, you can talk to that.
In terms of the International Joint Commission, there was a blue-ribbon commission. I was involved municipally for a number a years and so I understand Ms. Freeman's concerns. I come from a very small rural riding, large, small towns, and mostly agriculture. One of the things we found in dealing between Canada and the United States was that we have different rules. When we talk about quality, obviously along the beach area, which is very well established on Lake Huron—it's a beautiful resort area—we have high density. A number of those cottage residences are in municipalities that don't have full services in, so we have septic tanks that are in sand. It makes a great system of moving product towards the water.
Then, obviously, I'm in a large and very tense agriculture area. We work with those two in terms of best management in agriculture, in terms of cropping and obviously in terms of livestock. With that we found with nutrient management planning, for example, in discussion with the blue-ribbon, there was quite a disparity between the United States and Canada. I can only speak for Ontario, where there were significantly more safeguards in place, I would say, province-wide than there were statewide at that time. Maybe you can help me with that, in terms of where that is now.
The third part I guess would be, in terms of municipalities. I had the privilege of being a mayor of a municipality for likely longer than I should have. It was a great experience. You learn a lot, not only about the agriculture but about how we have to work, and do work, with federal, municipal, and provincial, and our partners within the commodity organizations, and livestock, and farming, and industry. How are you working with municipalities to help coordinate quality management for our Great Lakes, because all our streams around in my area end up going to a main river or to the Great Lakes?
I know that's three, Mr. Chair, but I'm done.