Kingston waterfront users reminded to check sewer overflows after heavy rainfall

Screen capture of Utilities Kingston’s sewer overflow map, Jun 5, 2023.

While Kingston’s waterfront is a clean, safe place to swim, fish or boat, according to Utilities Kingston, the organization is reminding local water and waterfront users to check the sewer overflow map after heavy rainfalls.

According to a release from the utility company, bacteria levels in lakes and rivers are higher up to 48 hours after heavy rainfall, and swimming is not recommended during that time. Sewer overflows can contribute to that problem, and Utilities Kingston provides an online map at www.UtilitiesKingston.com/Overflows, which shows where sewer overflows have occurred in real time.

“We are proud to be transparent in helping residents make more informed decisions on recreational water use, as we continue to both reduce sewer overflows and openly share information,” said Remi Adedapo, Director of Utilities Engineering for Utilities Kingston. “Water users can consider our real-time sewer overflow map before they use certain locations at Lake Ontario within 48 hours of heavy rainfall.”

To reduce overflows, Utilities Kingston and City of Kingston set a 20-year target to separate 100 per cent of the combined sewers in the municipal sewer system by 2043, according to the release. These sewer overflows can affect Lake Ontario, the Great Cataraqui River, the Little Cataraqui Creek, and other surrounding bodies of water.

“KFL&A Public Health supports Utilities Kingston in their initiative to improve public notification of sewer overflows into recreational waters. This information is beneficial to the public’s health and we’re glad that it’s being shared. The sewer overflow map is a resource that should be considered after a heavy rainfall, before deciding to participate in recreational activities on the water,” said Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health.

How Utilities Kingston is reducing sewer overflows

In 2022, Utilities Kingston managed approximately 35.8 million cubic metres of wastewater. Almost all of it (99.9 per cent) was fully treated and returned to Lake Ontario as natural resource quality water, according to the release. Approximately 0.1 per cent of sewage was released from overflows and bypasses, typically when the sewers became too full due to heavy rains and rapid snow melts, or when equipment failed, the utility company stated.

To protect the natural environment—including the flora and fauna that inhabit local waterways—and the health and safety of recreational water users, Utilities Kingston said that it is actively addressing sewer overflows.

Utilities Kingston and the City of Kingston will continue to separate combined sewers to further reduce combined sewer overflows. According to the release, planned near-term work includes Victoria Street, from Johnson to Union; Union Street, from Victoria to Collingwood; Earl Street, from Victoria to Collingwood; Couper Street; Collingwood Street from Couper to Union; Princess Street, from Division to Alfred; and Gore and Bagot Street.

Overflows of sewage are a historical remnant of the evolution of the sanitary sewer system in the City of Kingston, the utility company noted. Overflows are a problem that exists in most major cities around the world. When a sewer overflow reaches the lake or river, it contributes pollutants to the environment.

As per the Utilities Kingston Water and Wastewater Master Plan, the preferred method for reducing sewer overflows is to separate combined sewers — sewers that collect both sewage and stormwater runoff and can get too full during heavy rain events. In 2007, the municipal sewer system still included 275 blocks of these combined sewers, some constructed 100 years ago. Since that time, the City of Kingston and Utilities Kingston have worked together to separate nearly half of these combined sewers and reportedly are well-positioned to separate the remaining 51 per cent by 2043.

More information from Utilities Kingston and the City:

Learn more about Utilities Kingston on their website: www.UtilitiesKingston.com.

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