TORONTO FLOODING CAUSED SEWAGE TO OVERFLOW INTO HARBOUR
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By Michelle Moore
Toronto experienced heavy rain last week that flooded parts of North York and downtown, halted subway and bus service, closed roads, delayed flights, caused thousands of homes to lose power and even left drivers stranded in their vehicles.
Environment Canada said parts of North York and downtown received between 50 to 75 millimetres within two to three hours. According to local environmental group SwimDrinkFish, the average rainfall for the entire month of August fell that night.
Many parts of the City of Toronto have a combined sewer system like many of Canada's older cities. In times of heavy rainfall these systems become overwhelmed and overflow into waterways.
Toronto does have a $3 billion plan to upgrade its infrastructure and build overflow pipes to store extra water during storms that can be treated once the rain has stopped. However, the first phase isn't expected to begin for another ten years and could take as many as 25 to complete.
SwimDrinkFish staff are familiar with the overflow problem that occurs in times of heavy rain, so on the morning of August 8 members of their Lake Ontario Waterkeeper program headed out to observe the water quality in the harbour front.
The water was filled with everything from branches and leaves to plastic tampon applicators, shredded toilet paper and syringes. The City of Toronto does water sampling at 11 beaches but not on the entire waterfront.
Water samples taken that day revealed the highest levels of E. coli ever recorded by their team at Marina 4 at levels of 24 196 per 100mL. These results were over 241 times higher than the city's guidelines for recreational water quality. Marina 4 is not strictly a beach but is popular with recreational water users and serves as a marina for houseboats.
Escherichia coli is an indicator of fecal bacteria in the water. While swimming in the water can cause gastrointestinal illness often by swallowing the water, simple skin contact is a hazard too. It can increase the possibility of skin, ear and eye infections.
Krystyn Tully, Vice-President of the national water advocacy group Swim Drink Fish said that the problem in the harbour was still apparent up until August 14, a week after the flood.
Swim Drink Fish wrote a letter to the City of Toronto about their concerns with water sample results, and photos of the debris. Tully said the response from Acting General Manager of Toronto Water Frank Quarisa was that they understood the problem had been resolved.
But when staff returned to do some more sampling, Tully said "what we saw in the harbour was more sewage debris, a lot of dead rats, and a lot of needles. In a particular there's a canoe and kayak camp for kids and the camp counsellors have been cleaning the hypodermic needles out of the water to try to make it safer for the kids who are in those classes..."
The latest sample results came in as Tully spoke to this reporter. She said the results at Marina 4 were down to 197 per 100mL, but Bathurst Street, an area commonly used by people kayaking and stand up paddle-boarding was still at the 23 000 per 100mL level. The area being used by the kayak camp has decreased to 33 per 100mL but debris remains an issue.
While the heavy rain event experienced last week was certainly out of the ordinary, there are 86 combined sewer outflows in older parts of the city that SwimDrinkFish says commonly discharge into waterways.
SwimDrinkFish regularly tests several areas twice a week and publishes all their sample data on www.theSwimGuide.org.
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