When it rains, it pours

East York Councillor Janet Davis knows there’s a problem with the sewers in Toronto. She knows the city has a combined sewer system, which means when it rains, water from the storm-water pipes overflow through sewage pipes, which eventually flow into into east Toronto’s watershed.

She knows this is the major source of water pollution in the city and she’s trying to fix it.

That is the reason she initiated a $1.1 billion- program called Wet Weather Master Plan. Over the next 25 years inspectors are supposed to determine how rain water is dispersed and disposed of through the city’s combined sewer system.

When the city’s inspectors tested the Taylor-Massey Creek, they found high levels of E.coli bacteria contamination in the water during dry weather periods. It wasn’t quite the pollution they had been looking for; this was more direct and indicative of a larger problem.

Contaminated water

“When we saw the initial results [on the Taylor-Massey creek] we realized we needed to expand right across the city.” Davis said.

What they found was that of 252 pipes flowing into the creek, 44 of those had contaminated water. Of those 44, 26 were considered priority outflows.

The creek, which flows down the east side of the city and out into the Don River, was being flooded with waste from sewer pipes that had been incorrectly connected. An apartment building and a strip mall were sources of the faulty connections. They have since been repaired.

“Every single pipe in the city of Toronto is now going to be tested over the next five years to see if there are similar problems,” Davis said.
No easy fixes

John Steele, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Environment says it’s a good thing they’ve identified the problem in the creek and are working to fix it.

“It’s a tedious and difficult process to isolate where the cross connection is coming from,” Steele said.

It is also a long process, one that has already continued on, with inspectors now looking at the Black Creek for similar cross connections.

Just the beginning

Davis warns that this is just the beginning. “There’s still more to go. They’ve identified the problems and now we’re investigating and that takes some time for our staff,” she said.

“The longer term solution is solving our pollution problems that come from combined sewers.”

Ms. Davis knows that fixing dry-weather pollution isn’t the final answer. She knows the city needs to address wet-weather pollution if it’s going to fix the city’s overall water quality. She knows the next time it rains, contaminants are going to flood into the Taylor-Massey Creek.

Fixing it is just going to take some time.