by Candy Venning

I was fortunate to spend part of my childhood growing up in Ontario, playing near ravines and waterways; some of my fondest memories are of wading through streams, watching frogs, minnows & dragonflies. Now as an adult I live in Hamilton with its beautiful escarpment, waterfalls and miles of waterfront. I know I’m not alone in a belief that we can see clear streams flowing into a pristine lake, children splashing along safe beaches and water we can swim in again.

We always wish to believe that someone else is causing the problem, a big factory or large corporation and, in some cases this is true but it doesn’t exclude us from doing our part to act responsibility and take matters into our own hands.

Imagine the compounded effect of rain water coming off thousands of acres of roofs, roads and other hard surfaces, entering drains and sewers. The city just can’t manage 2031kms of water mains, plus that much extra water flooding in all at once & the result is raw sewage entering the lake. Here are a few action items to consider.

  • disconnect downspouts where it’s safe to do so – then -redirect water onto your own garden & create beautiful rain or bog gardens (google it) to absorb the water slowly, as nature intended
  • consider getting rain barrels, with screens, for watering your garden – elevate them for a little pressure or use a hand pump to empty them out before the next big rainfall. Plants prefer rainwater over municipal water & there’s a sense of satisfaction that comes from storing and using what nature gives us
  • look into permeable paving for driveways, walkways and ask/encourage local developers & politicians to advocate & do the same with parking lots. (see ‘Environment Hamilton’ for more information on ‘Fair fees for Stormwater ’)
  • take steps to reduce household water use & especially during wet weather
  • ask a contractor about designing ‘French drains’ or sinking perforated pipe into gravel if you have a sump pump (rather than having it hooked into your sewage pipe)
  • de-pave Paradise; join the growing movement to tear up asphalt in schoolyards, educate parents and kids and plant gardens/ use permeable paving instead of concrete
  • Start a group or team to encourage other members of the community to get involved with educational sessions as offered through – Bay Area Restoration Council, Environment Hamilton and Green Venture.

On a positive note, the city has drastically scaled back the amount of sewage released into the harbour from combined sewers over the past two decades, spending 330 million upgrading the Woodward treatment plant and 120 million on nine more ‘huge’ sewage trapping tanks.

Unfortunately we are rarely told when sewage does overflow into the lake unless you happen to notice signs on beaches, stating it’s unsafe to swim due to high ‘fecal counts’ (ewwww!)

There are lots of ways we can help by ‘getting our minds in the gutter’ and reducing the amount of water flowing off hard city surfaces into sewers. These suggestions can help put rainwater back in the soil where it can be absorbed, slowly, as nature intended.