Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday April 29, 2020
The future of our watershed is far from assured
Look, it’s another non-COVID-19 editorial! That’s right, we wanted to give you a break from nonstop pandemic news and commentary. We know that can get heavy.
So instead, let’s talk about the state of Cootes Paradise, Chedoke Creek and Hamilton’s watershed in general. That’s bound to lighten your mood. Not.
A new report from the City of Hamilton says no special cleanup or monitoring of the Cootes Paradise marsh is called for as a result of the now infamous 24-billion-litre sewage leak known as Sewergate.
Before you utter a collective sigh of relief, let’s be clear: That doesn’t mean the protected marsh area is fine. It’s not. And common sense suggests the extra billions of litres of sewage leaked over more than four years into Chedoke Creek, which drains into the marsh, did not help matters.
According to a report from The Spectator’s Matthew Van Dongen, the report by SLR Consulting concludes there was no lasting damage to the marsh from the sewage spill, but it also observes that it’s hard to know where any specific piece of pollution is coming from, because there are so many sources. Well, that’s a relief.
Hamilton Coun. Maureen Wilson rightfully referred to the situation as a “damning indictment” of how the city has treated Cootes through history, allowing it to become dirty nearly beyond redemption prior to efforts in the last two decades to reclaim the marsh.
Progress has certainly been made, but the reality is that Cootes remains painfully polluted, not only by sewage but also by leachate from old landfill sites and toxic-run-off from highways, parking lots and other sources.
Back to the report for a bit. The consultant’s view is not necessarily and final word. The Royal Botanical Gardens, which owns the marsh, is studying the report, and while there is no final determination, there are hints the RBG may not agree with the report’s findings. The RBG’s Nick Kondrat told Van Dongen: “ … our initial assessment is that we strongly believe that additional analysis is required to evaluate the severity of the damage” from the spill.
The provincial Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has also yet to pass judgment, and it may differ from the consultant when it comes. It will also determine whether any aspect of the spill broke the law. If it did, charges against the city could follow.
But suppose the provincial ministry report doesn’t amount to much. And suppose the RBG’s findings and recommendations aren’t conclusive. Where does that leave us?
As much as we like to use the Sewergate label — The Spec did coin the phrase and break the story, after all — the spill and its fallout are not the most important issue at hand. What matters more is where we go from here.
Are we satisfied with the status quo, with ongoing cleanup efforts that have delivered laudable but not conclusive results?
Cootes is still receiving pollution from so many sources pollutants can’t be traced to any one source. Chedoke Creek’s bed is layered with contaminated sludge. Major weather events, of which we are having more and more, still result in sewage holding tank overflow that leaks into the marsh, harbour and lake. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)