Hamilton Harbour on the Road to Delisting
BY Julie Vanden Byllaardt
ON April 17, 2019
Ever wonder how Hamilton Harbour is being remediated? What’s been done and what’s left to do? Look no further! The Remedial Action Plan has published their latest Fact Sheets
where you can find all this information and more.
Remedial Action Plans have a common language. We speak in Beneficial Use Impairments, or BUIs. BUIs represent environmental challenges that interfere with the enjoyment or use of the Harbour. In total, Hamilton Harbour has 11 uses that are considered impaired or require more information, whereas 3 are considered not impaired. These challenges are often caused by unfavourable conditions in the chemical, biological, or physical makeup of the water and require remediation.
On a status balance, you can see that Hamilton Harbour currently weights towards the red, or impaired status for BUIs.
Hamilton Harbour has come a long way from what it used to be during the peak of its pollution in the 1960’s. Drastic changes have occurred even in the past 30 years, but we often forget what the original conditions were.
Did you know that the Harbour once had not a single cormorant? They were encouraged to nest in the area with the creation of targeted habitat, along with Common Terns, Caspian Terns, Herring Gulls, and Black-crowned Night Herons. With over 30 years of management, experts believe that we have achieved a sustainable, mixed community of nesting birds around the Harbour and they will be continued to be watched and managed.
A sustainable, mixed community of nesting water birds have established in the Harbour. Windermere Wetland colonies are shown, and include Caspian Terns (CATE), Common Terns (COTE), and Ring-billed Gulls (RBGU). (Photo credit: Molly Bradford)
The aesthetics of the Harbour have improved greatly and no longer involves oil slicks of the past. The Harbour also periodically took on an unnatural reddy-brown colour for a good chunk of the 20th century due to the infilling, raw sewage release, and massive iron releases from industry on the south shore. A stark contrast to the beautiful blue we see most of the year in current times.
The blue waters of Pier 4 Beach in 2018 (photo credit: Julie Vanden Byllaardt)
Lastly, contamination in wildlife has lessened over the past 30 years and new laws will help protect wildlife in the area. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry closed the hunting season for snapping turtle (and eggs) in April of 2018.
The open season for hunting snapping turtles or their eggs was closed officially in April 2017 (photo credit: Environment and Climate Change Canada)
In the coming year the Remedial Action Plan will be assessing some of the statuses of the BUIs in line with recent changes and ecosystem improvements in the Harbour.
There are some big-ticket remediation projects going on that, once completed, will bring the Harbour further down the path to delisting as an Area of Concern. The containment facility at Randle Reef is mid-way in construction and now with the walls built, isolates the most contaminated sediment on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. Upgrades to the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant will go from secondary to tertiary treatment in 2021/2022 and is projected to cut its phosphorus inputs to the Harbour by a whopping 50%. This will go a long way to reducing blooms and improving dissolved oxygen levels in the Harbour. After the switch is flipped at the plant, most of the phosphorus inputs will be coming in through the creeks – something that hasn’t been seen in the last 150 years! There are also many smaller projects, that together make big strides towards improving the water quality and habitat for animals.
We know we’re not done yet. Hamilton Harbour still faces many challenges like reoccurring algal blooms, low oxygen levels, poor quality of aquatic vegetation, and two contaminated areas where remediation has yet to occur.
The speed at which Hamilton Harbour is responding to remediation efforts is slower than most AOCs. This is due to the intensity at which Hamilton Harbour was polluted, infilling of the Harbour, rapid urbanization on all shores, and importantly, its shape. Unlike most other Areas of Concern which are open-water, Hamilton Harbour is shaped like a bathtub with only one small outlet to Lake Ontario at the Burlington Shipping Canal. These conditions exasperate the issues the Harbour faces, which goes to show why it is so important to protect the waters from pollution in the first place. Remediation is a long journey, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
This is the first of a series of blogs about Hamilton Harbour progress. Keep an eye out for new blogs as the Remedial Action Plan assesses some of the statuses of the BUIs.