A Niagara-on-the-Lake creek has some of the brownest, foulest water in the region and the culprit appears to be leaky sewage lines.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority says Two Mile Creek has the highest level of E. coli of any water system in the entire Niagara watershed.
“We’re well aware of the high levels of E. coli in Two Mile Creek,” said Rome D’Angelo, the town’s director of operations, when the issue came up at a council meeting Oct. 24.
E. coli is a bacteria commonly found in human and animal feces.
Town staff first became aware of the issue in 2015, D’Angelo said, when the conservation authority began tracking E. coli levels in the creek.
The conservation authority’s report says it tracked E. coli sources in the Two Mile Creek Conservation Area to a storm sewer drain. The conservation area includes the portion of the creek between Lakeshore and Niagara Stone roads.
Joshua Diamond, the conservation authority’s manager of watershed monitoring, told The Lake Report the E. coli samples it collected contained human DNA.
“We should all be concerned with water pollution,” Diamond said, adding it can contaminate water used for drinking and recreation.
Two Mile Creek is not used for either purpose, he said. However, it does flow into Lake Ontario.
The drain in question is in Garrison Village, D’Angelo said, but he did not have an exact location.
There are three such drains in the area.
Two Mile Creek meanders through much of Old Town, including Garrison Village, and empties into Lake Ontario near Niagara Shores Conservation Area, just west of the Chautauqua neighbourhood.
Staff have done some work to replace the liners in both the storm and sanitary sewer lines in the Garrison Village, D’Angelo told council.
He also said specialized cameras were used to inspect both the sanitary and storm sewer lines for punctures, holes and leaks.
In an interview with The Lake Report, D’Angelo said when E. coli levels are high, the most likely culprit is a leaking sanitary line.
Repairing such problems can cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sanitary lines carry waste from residential areas to sewage treatment plants, like the regional facility on Lakeshore Road
“Typically, it’s your sanitary system that, when it starts to leak, that’s where you start to get your E. coli levels up,” D’Angelo said.
E.coli can, however, also get into the watershed through animal waste and agricultural runoff, he said.
GM Blueplan, an engineering company that assessed the sewers in Garrison Village in 2019, told the council at that time it was a combination of “animal feces and sanitary sewer cross-connections” that was causing the high E. coli levels.
A cross-connection is where a storm sewer line connects to a sanitary sewer line.
This can result in sewage from a sanitary line contaminating a storm pipe and draining into the watershed.
The cost of repairing the Garrison Village storm and sanitary sewer system is being spread over a 10-year period, D’Angelo said.
This year alone, the town has set aside $750,000 in its capital budget for sewer repairs in the Garrison Village.
Coun. Erwin Wiens said aging infrastructure has come up a lot but it’s not “sexy” to talk about it.
“If we want to fix our aging infrastructure, there’s a cost to it,” he added.
“The rubber meets the road” when council decides if it has an “appetite to fix it,” Wiens said.
While Two Mile Creek is the brownest, it’s not the only creek in NOTL that has serious problems.
“All of the Niagara-on-the-Lake tributaries have a poor water quality, except for Four Mile Creek which is very poor,” Coun. Sandra O’Connor said at the meeting Oct. 24.
The conservation authority’s report on the region’s water health said the Virgil reservoir, a dammed-off pond on Four Mile Creek, has high levels of copper, chloride, phosphorous, nitrates and “total suspended solids.”
The report said suspended solids, like silt and clay, come from “soil erosion, stormwater, wastewater and industrial effluent.”
High levels of nitrate, chloride, copper and phosphorous are all toxic to aquatic life.
Copper tends to enter creeks in the form of blown dust, decaying vegetation, forest fires and industrial wastewater, the report said.
Nitrate, chloride and phosphorus can all end up in the creek through animal feces, it said.
Chloride can also enter the water in the form of road salt or fertilizer, and phosphorus can get in through pesticides.
The report said phosphorus is an “essential nutrient for plant growth” but if there’s too much, it can cause organic matter to decompose, which upsets the balance of oxygen in the water.
This places additional stress on the fish that call the creek home.