Major Great Lakes Watershed Sewage Spill Investigated
ELMIRA - Ministry of Environment investigators continue
to probe the cause of a massive sewage spill that flowed
into the Grand River last week.
Initially it was believed a hydro crew severed power
and phone lines to an Elmira pumping station, setting
the stage for the release of one million litres of raw
sewage into the Canagagigue Creek.
Now, ministry officials wonder if the phone lines that
control an overflow alarm were cut as earlier believed.
The probe is focussing on what other problems may have
led to the alarm failure at the station, operated by Woolwich
The flow of raw sewage went unnoticed for 19 hours.
John Cooke, district supervisor at the ministry's Guelph
office, said the station has a two-stage alarm but neither
There were no back up alarms as part of the system,
but Cooke wondered if that would have mattered anyway.
"These to me are a unique set of circumstances that
I haven't come across in my (27 year) career with the
ministry," he said.
"This might just be a one-time event that could have
been avoided by making sure that power wasn't interrupted
to the station in the first place."
In an earlier interview a ministry official suggested
Waterloo North Hydro didn't follow its own protocol.
"You are supposed to do a locate before you do any drilling
or digging," said Randy Wenzel.
Dave Gosnay, director of planning and engineering for
Woolwich Township, said the township is exploring ways
to prevent this from happening again.
"We met with the MOE today and Friday. We don't have
any answers yet...we are looking at possibilities for
a back-up to the back-up...we are looking at all available
Gosnay said the long-term answer is to eliminate pumping
stations altogether and replace them with systems that
rely on gravity.
"But that costs $400,000 to $500,000 (per station),"
and the township has three.
"The system we have was appropriate but it didn't allow
for both (alarm systems) failing at the same time."
Meanwhile, Waterloo Region officials claim their detection
systems are more robust.
Dave Andrews, manager of wastewater treatment for the
region, said all regional pumping stations are equipped
with standby generators that provide back-up power and
alarm systems that work even if phone lines are knocked
The regional stations are generally larger than those
operated by municipalities like the one that failed.
No decision has been made on whether the incident should
be considered for charges.
Dwight Boyd, senior water resources engineer at the
Grand River Conservation Authority, said the spill came
at a bad time because water levels were unusually low.
Water was added to dilute flows to the Grand River and
to flush the sewage through the river system.
Boyd said there were no visible signs of damage to aquatic
life in the Grand.
And any sewage spilled would have reached Lake Erie
by late Sunday. Communities including Waterloo Region
that use water from the Grand closed intakes at water
treatment plants as a precaution until the threat passed.
"Any effect would be more local to the Canagagigue Creek,"
Ministry and conservation authority officials were in
Elmira yesterday trying to assess damage and better understand
what went wrong.
The good news is that a system to notify downstream
water users worked well and reservoirs the authority operates
had ample water to meet the challenge, Boyd said.