Canada's RAP Progress Report 2003
- The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs)
- Severn Sound
- Collingwood Harbour
- Spanish Harbour
- Thunder Bay
- Nipigon Bay
- Jackfish Bay
- Peninsula Harbour
- St. Marys River
- St. Clair River
- Detroit River
- Wheatley Harbour
- Niagara River
- Hamilton Harbour
- Toronto and Region
- Port Hope Harbour
- Bay of Quinte
- St. Lawrence River (Cornwall)
- List of Acronyms
- Figure 1 - Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin
- Table 1 - Status of Beneficial Use Impairments in Canadian Areas of Concern. January, 2003
Hamilton Harbour is a 2 150 hectare embayment located at the western tip of Lake Ontario. It is connected to the lake by a ship canal across the sandbar that forms the bay. The Area of Concern includes the harbour, Cootes Paradise wetland and open water, and the surrounding watershed drained by three main tributaries: Grindstone Creek; Red Hill Creek; and Spencer Creek, covering a total of 50 000 hectares. The watersheds are divided by the Niagara Escarpment giving rise to scenic waterfalls with the urban centres of Hamilton, Burlington, Stoney Creek, Dundas and Ancaster largely below the escarpment. The urban population is growing rapidly and exceeds 700 000. While the economic structure of the region was historically based on the iron and steel industries, it is rapidly diversifying with the services sector now providing the most jobs. Health and educational institutions are now among the top five employers of the region. About 30 percent of the watershed is designated as an Environmentally Significant/Sensitive Area and development is subject to a range of controls in an attempt to minimize damage and retain intrinsic values.
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND IMPAIRMENTS
The ecosystem of the harbour reflects its natural conditions (a small, shallow water body with a long retention time), a high volume of sewage treatment plant discharges, large scale industrial activities and extensive land use changes. Hamilton Harbour is a major shipping centre and supports the largest concentration of heavy industry in Canada. The water and sediments are contaminated by metals, pesticides, PCBs and PAHs. The sediments of Randle Reef and industrial boat slips are highly contaminated with PAHs and have an adverse effect on the local ecosystem. In addition, the shoreline has been radically transformed with 75 percent of wetlands eliminated and 25 percent of the shoreline filled in. Habitat for fish and wildlife is greatly reduced and resident species are exposed to toxic contaminants.
Hamilton Harbour is the main recipient of the waste water treatment plant discharges and urban runoff from the cities of Hamilton and Burlington and the treated sewage from Stoney Creek and Burlington--large portions of which are not in the natural watershed of the harbour but considered within the RAP. The water quality of the harbour continues to be characterized by poor water clarity, low oxygen levels, high nutrient levels and high bacterial levels resulting from a combination of soil erosion in the watershed, industrial particulate discharges, partial treatment of urban sewage, urban runoff and combined sewer overflows.
Hamilton Harbour AOC has nine beneficial use impairments. The discharge of toxic substances to the harbour from industry, waste sites and agriculture and the contaminated sediment deposited from a century of these discharges has resulted in four impairments: restrictions on eating fish from the harbour; reported fish tumours; animal (snapping turtle) deformities; and restrictions on dredging activities.
The poor water and sediment quality contribute to four additional impairments: a degraded bottom-dwelling invertebrate community (which serve as a food source for fish populations); eutrophication and undesirable algae; beach closures due to bacteria; and degraded aesthetics.
The presence of contaminants, lack of oxygen and high sedimentation together with shoreline restructuring and infilling also play a major role in the loss of habitat and reduced populations of fish and wildlife.
Further assessment of impairments is required for bird and animal deformities and for degradation of plankton populations of the harbour.
STRUCTURE OF THE RAP
RAP planning for Hamilton Harbour AOC began in 1986 with the formation of a stakeholders group and writing team. In 1991, stakeholders organized into two distinct groups: the Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC) and the Bay Area Implementation Team (BAIT). BARC, created as an independent non-profit organization, strives to maintain a balanced voice for all stakeholders of the harbour, perform a watchdog role by monitoring RAP progress, and to keep the public informed. The BAIT is composed of the major implementors of the RAP. A public group, the RAP Forum, was established in 1998 to provide input to the update of the Stage 2 RAP document. Their work was completed in 2002.
The Hamilton Harbour RAP Office was created in 1992 by Environment Canada to serve as liaison among BAIT and BARC, the RAP Forum and the RAP Technical Team, and provides secretariat support to the BAIT and during its term, the RAP Forum.
Since its inception, a commitment to public involvement has been one of the strengths of the Hamilton Harbour RAP process. Today BARC is a confederation of community stakeholders and is the largest centre for dissemination of information on harbour conditions and RAP progress. BARC has held over 40 public meetings and numerous other venues, publishes an annual report Toward Safe Harbours and produces a quarterly newsletter. In 2002, BARC published a report card on the status of the RAP, giving ”fair to middling” letter grades for 17 desired outcomes. Environment Canada has supported BARC since its creation in 1991.
The RAP Forum is a broader group of stakeholders and citizens that was called together to evaluate the remedial actions undertaken to date and to draw up a set of new recommendations and timelines for RAP implementation. The RAP Forum was assisted by technical teams and the draft RAP Stage 2 Update was prepared by the RAP Office as a result of this consultation.
Pre-RAP expenditures for Hamilton Harbour calculated in 1990 dollars are in the range of $500M for Stelco and Dofasco for toxics reductions, and $100M for the municipalities for improvements to wastewater treatment plants. Total RAP spending since 1990 is estimated at over $205M comprising $145M for industrial abatement and municipal wastewater treatment, and $30M each from the senior levels of government. Between 1990 and 2001 the GLSF has spent $15.4M towards restoring impaired beneficial uses in the Hamilton Harbour AOC. Partner funding and in-kind contributions exceeds $25M. The largest funding category is habitat restoration where GLSF contributed $8.6M and partners $13.1M to projects. Significant progress has been made in the AOC particularly in the areas of fish and wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration, and public access to the shoreline and watershed.
Progress has been made on reducing the phosphorus, chlorophyll and bacteria levels in the harbour. The main improvement in water quality in the west end of the harbour has been the reduction of bacterial contamination. This was achieved by the installation of CSO tanks, which store the excess combined storm sewage and sanitary sewage and channel the effluent to the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). As a result of these improvements, two beaches were opened in 1993 after a 50-year long swimming prohibition in Hamilton Harbour. Another notable success was at the Region of Halton’s Skyway Sewage Treatment Plant where low-cost optimization techniques were introduced that resulted in improved effluent quality and considerable savings for the Region.
URBANIZATION AND LAND MANAGEMENT
The Hamilton Harbour Watershed Stewardship Project is a joint program of the conservation authorities and BARC to educate and engage the community in the restoration of local water resources. Since 1994, over 6500 hectares of land have been protected through verbal stewardship agreements in the Spencer and Grindstone Creek watersheds including 120 kilometres of riparian habitat and 2900 hectares of significant wetland and upland habitat. The program is ongoing.
TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND SEDIMENT REMEDIATION
The waters of the harbour now meet water quality guidelines for toxic metals although the load reductions occurred prior to the beginning of the RAP. Environment Canada is working with its government and industrial partners on the Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project to remove and contain approximately 50 000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment from Hamilton Harbour. To date total expenditures to conduct environmental site assessments, investigate remedial options and technologies amount to $3-4 million. Work to remediate Randle Reef is planned for 2004. Decisions on other harbour hotspots are still pending.
FISH AND WILDLIFE
Very positive, visible progress has been made in restoring fish and wildlife habitat. Work at six sites has resulted in: restoration of 340 hectares of habitat; secured habitat for 670 nesting pairs of Caspian and common terns; considerable shoreline rehabilitation; at Cootes Paradise the return of amphibians and reptiles once considered extirpated, and increased diversity of native plants and waterfowl partially as a result of a successful program of carp exclusion.
Habitat restoration activities have had the added benefit of involving many volunteers and bringing work on the harbour to the attention of the public. Volunteer plantings and growing of marsh plants in schools across Hamilton-Wentworth Region have involved thousands of individua’s in ”hands-on” restoration work. For example, the Hamilton Harbour Waterfront Trail was opened in 2000 with over 600 people volunteering their time to plant thousands of rootstocks, trees and plants over a four day period. The trail has also increased public access to the shoreline to 21 percent. This is a considerable achievement considering that there was essentially no public access to the harbour when the RAP began.
RESEARCH AND MONITORING
Considerable scientific research and monitoring has been conducted in Hamilton Harbour and Cootes Paradise by governments, local conservation authorities, McMaster University and the Royal Botanical Gardens. A research and monitoring workshop was held in 2001 providing scientists with an opportunity to share their understanding of the harbour ecosystem. Scientists at the National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada have investigated the response of harbour water quality to changes in sewage discharge and continue to provide advice and input to sewage issues, non-point source pollution, Randle Reef and Windermere Basin dredging plans and the Cootes Paradise Fishway.
The Hamilton Harbour AOC cannot be delisted in the short-term. Many of the issues affecting the harbour require significant capital costs and 10-15 years or longer to complete. For the immediate future, there are many activities and initiatives that are underway.
The RAP Office has recently completed a draft RAP Stage 2 Update that provides the current status of the RAP and identifies recommendations from the public. The Update was reviewed by the public and presented to the governments in early 2003.
Sediment remediation is one of the priorities for Environment Canada in this AOC. Efforts will continue on Randle Reef and for the Dofasco boat slip to reach an agreement on timelines and funding commitments to clean up known sediment hotspots. The City of Hamilton is leading efforts to establish an ongoing dredging program for the Windemere Basin to remove contaminated sediments, investigate for unknown hotspots and restore the effectiveness of the settling basin. More effort is required to address direct discharge of toxic substances from the steel sector. While control of direct discharges from the steel sector has improved in the 1990-1997 period, some of this was achieved by re-routing effluents through the Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant.
It is expected that the City of Hamilton’s new sewer by-law will address this issue. In addition, loadings from the plant are not monitored well enough to allow a calculation of the net effects in the harbour. The GLSF is a partner in several studies addressing the management of CSOs at the Woodward Avenue Wastewater and within City’s infrastructure of sewer networks and existing and proposed CSO tanks; communication of the issues related to CSOs to the public; and the optimization of the Waterdown sewage treatment plant. Other areas of support could potentially include optimization of the remaining STPs, and performance evaluation of CSO treatment technologies.
There is a need to include RAP objectives in the Official Plans of local municipalities. Attention will be drawn to urban boundaries, regional transportation corridors and the control of construction practices to limit the effects of site alterations to watersheds. The Halton Conservation Authority, with GLSF support, is working together with other conservation authorities and municipalities to implement watershed plans and shoreline stewardship initiatives at the end of a five-year period (2006). This initiative will likely result in sensitivity to planning new development with regard to the environment and goals of RAP.
Potential candidate projects for GLSF support include fish and wildlife habitat projects that are expected to be completed by 2005/6, such as the re-introduction of southern wild rice and fish/wildlife habitat restoration projects in Cootes Paradise. Full recovery of Cootes Paradise and Grindstone Creek is not expected until 2014.
Parks Canada has committed $10M for the Canadian Marine Discovery Centre, a major new environmental interpretive facility located in Hamilton Harbour focussing on the history, development and existing conditions of the Great Lakes with particular emphasis on Lake Ontario and Hamilton Harbour. The Discovery Centre is scheduled to open in 2003 and is expected to raise the level of public education and awareness of the RAP and operate as a centre for information dissemination.
The Hamilton Harbour RAP Office, together with the RAP Forum, have prepared a preliminary capital cost estimate to complete all remedial actions in the AOC. Funding would be required between the present time and 2015 to achieve delisting of the AOC. The total of $650M includes $543M for upgrades to Hamilton and Halton’s Waste Water Treatment Plants and the Hamilton CSOs to meet RAP water quality targets. The other major capital cost is to remediate PAH contaminated sediments in the area of Randle Reef estimated at $25 million. Some costs for remedial activities have not yet been determined. Smaller capital costs are: $9M for City of Hamilton water metering: $9M for further creation and maintenance of fish and wildlife habitat: and an additional $10M for recreational trail development of and enhancement of lands recently transferred from the Port Authority to the City of Hamilton.
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