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More than 300 million litres of sewage water poured into Ottawa River during storm



OTTAWA —During a severe thunderstorm last week, Ottawa's sewage and stormwater storage tunnel faced an unprecedented challenge as it became overwhelmed, resulting in the discharge of a staggering 316 million litres of contaminated water into the Ottawa River. This overflow incident marked the largest breach since the tunnel's establishment in 2020, designed initially to accommodate 43 million litres for pre-release treatment. Despite its commendable success in reducing untreated effluent, the tunnel was ill-equipped to manage the rapid stormwater influx caused by the recent storm's intensity. This breach, surpassing the tunnel's capacity, subsequently prompted swim advisories due to elevated E. coli levels at Petrie River and Petrie East Bay beaches, raising concerns about the tunnel's efficacy in handling increasingly frequent extreme weather events linked to changing climate conditions.


Municipal engineers in Ottawa are now grappling with the pressing question of whether the city's sewage storage tunnel can effectively navigate the escalating frequency of severe storms in the National Capital Region. Environment Canada's report shows that the Ottawa International Airport recorded 38.3 mm of rainfall. However, certain areas were subjected to even more intense downpours, leading to widespread flooding. The combined sewage storage tunnel, resembling the capacity of 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools, was designed to prevent overflow during heavy rainfalls. Equipped with gates that can release diluted sewage to the primary treatment facility and subsequently into the river, the tunnel stretches over 6.2 kilometers. Its purpose extends to mitigating pollution in the Ottawa River while also averting basement flooding in Centretown and the Glebe areas. These efforts are especially crucial as older sections of the city boast over 100 km of combined storm and wastewater pipelines. Historical records reveal frequent overflow events in the city before the tunnel's construction, which was initiated in response to the 2010 Ottawa River Action Plan. The four-year construction period aimed to address these challenges.


In a related context, Ottawa faced substantial cleanup efforts following the recent bout of heavy rain that led to widespread flooding of roads, properties, and parks, with water levels reaching up to three feet. Environment Canada reported varying amounts of rainfall across different areas, with Carleton Heights and Riverside experiencing nearly 100 mm. Central Experimental Farm recorded 77.8 mm, while the Ottawa International Airport saw 38.3 mm. The unexpectedly intense rainfall resulted in significant flooding and vehicle stranding, impacting areas like Merivale Road, Woodroffe Avenue, and Fisher Avenue. Despite these challenges, city infrastructure remained relatively stable, with officials reporting no critical impact. Mayor Mark Sutcliffe praised the community's support during these trying times. Ottawa has encountered a series of storms this summer, leading to rainfall double the average for July and August.


This incident is not the first time Ottawa has grappled with sewage-related issues during extreme weather conditions. Back in May, heavy rain and winter runoff led to a notable pollution event in the Ottawa River, absorbing over 600 million litres of combined sewer overflow in a single week. The overflow contained a mixture of stormwater and household sewage, straining water treatment facilities and affecting river health. The City of Ottawa has been working on the Ottawa River Action Plan, which aims to address these challenges through the construction of underground holding tanks to contain runoff for subsequent treatment. However, the volume of overflow continues to surpass holding tank capacity, posing ongoing challenges to water quality. Other cities along the Ottawa River, including Gatineau, also contribute to the issue, highlighting the importance of collective efforts to safeguard the environment and reduce water consumption during heavy rainfall events.


 

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