Citywide sewer-cam spill hunt would cost $50 million

It would cost up to $50 million to send cameras down every sewer pipe in Hamilton to look for hidden sewer leaks, according to a new report.

Now Hamilton has to wait and see if the province orders the equivalent of a city-wide colonoscopy in response to two sewage spills that went undetected for a quarter of a century.

Progressive Conservative Environment Secretary David Piccini first publicly pondered the prospect of inspecting “all the pipes” in Hamilton after a 26-year-old 337 million liter sewage spill was discovered at the port late last year.

To inspect “all the pipes” would require guiding electronic eyes through a 3,000-kilometer maze of aging underground sewers discharging flushed sewage, rainwater, or a combination of both.

The province ordered the city to study “the feasibility” of such a detailed inspection shortly after a second, separate, 26-year-old oil spill was discovered in the central lower city in January. The city submitted the results of this assessment to the Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks last week.

The Stantec Consulting report, now published online, supports the city’s counter-proposal to conduct targeted, “risk-based” inspections instead of a costly, city-wide sewer camera survey.

City officials originally estimated the cost of such a detailed inspection at about $10 million. But Stantec estimated the price of such a program at $36 million to $50 million, assuming the city used two teams of cameramen in tandem for up to 10 years.

It called such careful inspection “impractical” and less valuable for quickly uncovering unwanted leaks compared to strategic inspections in sub-city neighborhoods where stormwater and sewage mix in old pipes.

The report recommends that the city hire more staff and spend an additional $600,000 annually to expand a pilot program to search for bad sewers that began late last year. The two most notorious, largest and longest running sewage leaks identified to date have been blamed on failed repairs.

The ministry could not say on Tuesday when it would decide between the expensive system-wide inspection and Hamilton’s counter-proposal.

“The Department can order us to do whatever it deems necessary,” noted Shane McCauley, the city’s sanitation manager. But he said that devoting tens of millions of dollars and a decade of staff time to sewer videos was “not a sustainable or affordable program for the city.”

The city expects to implement the remaining measures ordered by the province by June, McCauley said. The company has already published the results of this year’s pilot inspection program in a new online map.

The city is also considering other Stantec proposals, including novel methods of testing for human sewage in storm pipes where it doesn’t belong. The consultant considered options such as dye testing, installing permanent cameras on sewers in local streams, and even using sewage-sniffing dogs.

McCauley said the city will evaluate the report — and any feedback it receives from the province — and submit a report to council in September with recommendations and costs to consider in 2024.


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