Current Challenges

BARC and other stakeholders continue to address the major challenges to the restoration of the Harbour.  Below are a few of the challenges currently facing Hamilton Harbour.

Contaminated Sediment at Randle Reef

Randle Reef is a problem from our past. Located in the industrial corner of the Harbour, it’s a blob of coal tar dumped in the water before the 1960s and prior to pollution laws. The site is approximately 60 hectares or, 120 football fields in size! It is the most contaminated site in the Harbour and the worst Canadian site of its kind in the Great Lakes.

Beginning with a preliminary environmental assessment over ten years ago, the Randle Reef Remediation Plan is in now in the final stages; all legal agreements to fund and implement the project have been completed and signed. On-the-ground work is expected to begin sometime in 2015. Construction was initially planned to begin in June/July of 2014 but tender bids came in over budget temporarily stalling the project. After extensive consultation during the summer, 2014, project partners identified modifications that would reflect the current budget without compromising the environmental goals of the project. In July, 2015, Hamilton's McNally Construction was awarded the cleanup contract. The Governments of Canada and Ontario, the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Port Authority, U.S. Steel Canada, the City of Burlington, and Halton Region are working together $138.9 million dollar project - the second most costly action of the Remedial Action Plan (RAP). A capped engineered containment facility (ECF) will be constructed on the tip of Hamilton Port Authority’s Pier 15. The structure will cap contaminated toxic sediment – roughly 500,000m3 - and clean fill will cover the contaminated sediment. A pier for port activities will cover the structure on one side. A natural shoreline habitat will be created on the other side.

Cleaning up Randle Reef will significantly improve water quality and reduce contaminant levels in aquatic organisms, making it safer to consume fish caught in the Harbour. It will also remove current restrictions on navigation and generate economic returns through the creation of valuable port lands.

“The success of this collaboration is that future generations will only know about Randle Reef by virtue of what they read in history books.” - Anton Jura, President of U. S. Steel Canada

Water Quality

Every day, local treatment plants process hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of sewage, releasing the treated water into the Harbour. They only partially remove nutrients like phosphorus and ammonia. The volume of treated wastewater entering the Harbour can overload the system, producing tell-tale signs: excess algae and unpleasant odours. Pesticides and fertilizers, chemicals and the sheer volume of water going down sewers and household drains every day contribute to this problem. Sewer overflows also harm Harbour water quality. Many older neighbourhoods have combined sewer systems where a single pipe carries sewage and stormwater to treatment plants. During heavy rains, these pipes can’t handle the volume and overflow, bypassing treatments plants and going directly into the Harbour. As climate change progresses, the number of severe rain events will continue to challenge the wastewater and stormwater infrastructure of the Harbour's surrounding communities.

The City of Hamilton addressed and continues to address these problems by building and implementing combined sewer overflow (CSO) tanks, wastewater treatment plant upgrades and most recently, fixing illegal sewer cross connections.
Combined Sewer Overflow Tanks (CSO): Buried underground, these tanks are large waste-water-storing facilities designed to reduce the burden on collection systems during rainfall events and to prevent overflow volume from entering the environment. There are currently 9 tanks operating within the watershed. On average, a CSO tank can store 34 million litres – that’s equivalent to 13.6 Olympic-size swimming pools!
Upgrades to Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP): Skyway (Burlington) and Woodward (Hamilton) WWTPs are currently undergoing major upgrades to improve treatment performance. At Woodward WWTP, treatment upgrades will be split into two phases, estimated to cost $465 million; phase 1 is now nearing completion. Future treatment process after phase 2 work is complete will employ additional methods to improve performance and reduce loadings that reach the Harbour through the effluent discharged to the Red Hill Creek.
Fixing Sewer Cross Connections: Hamilton is hiring two staff and investing almost half a million dollars in identifying and fixing illegal sewer cross connections in the City. Over the years, many homes and businesses in the watershed were improperly hooked-up to the sewer system resulting in high levels of E.coli on our local waterways such as Chedoke and Red Hill.
Beach Closures and E. coli
Hamilton Harbour has two beaches at its western end: Bayfront Park Beach and Pier 4 Park Beach. Beaches are tested regularly by the City of Hamilton to ensure water quality meets Public Health standards. Bayfront Beach is closed for the 2016 swimming season due to a history of high levels of bacteria and toxins. Pier 4 Beach is often posted as unsafe for swimming due to E. coli bacteria levels that exceed the recreational guideline. Recent research at Environment Canada has indicated that the source of the E. coli is likely loafing geese and other waterfowl. Waterfowl poop, like in many other animals, contains, E. coli - a bacteria commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. Most E. coli strains are harmless, although some strains can pose a health hazard to both humans and other organisms. The presence of E. coli bacteria is a sign of fecal contamination and indicates that more harmful organisms may be present.

FACT: A Canada Goose Can poop up to 92 times a day
Algae Blooms
Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are the primary cause of algal growth in our Harbour. The process of nutrient enrichment in a waterway is called eutrophication. Runoff and erosion from fertilized agricultural areas, erosion from river banks, river beds, land clearing (deforestation) and sewage effluent are the major sources of phosphorus and nitrogen entering water ways. Phosphate attaches to sediments. When water is low in dissolved oxygen (anoxic), sediments release phosphate into the water column. This encourages the growth of algae.

Algae blooms often form in large mats attached to rocks and other surfaces, or float in the water column and turn the water green. Algae blooms can prevent the penetration of sunlight into the water column. In addition, decaying algae depletes oxygen, causing adverse environmental effects in the Harbour. In more recent years a bacteria called Cyanobacteria (also known misleadingly as blue-green algae) has been appearing in the Harbour. Some strains of Cyanobacteria contain the toxin microcystin, which causes a variety of illnesses. Periodic reoccurrences of microcystin-producing Cyanobacteria have resulted in warning signs being posted at Harbour beaches.  
FACT: Many species of algae are actually beneficial to lakes, providing the basis of the food chain.