image shows Chedoke creek, a wide creek beside a highway, with vegetation on either side of the creek

Hamilton River Monsters – The Sewergate Scandal

By: Curtis D’Souza, OPIRG McMaster

On any given day, how often does the thought of quality cross your mind before you take a sip of that nice cool glass of water? Or before you head to a nice Hamilton beach to cool off on a hot summer day? Water quality in Canada is not always of the utmost concern to individuals, with our day-to-day stresses predominantly occupying our thoughts. After all, if water is such a seemingly ubiquitous entity in the Hamilton area, it couldn’t possibly be harmful. Right? For us Hamiltonians, there is reason for concern around what harmful microbes could be lurking in our local water due to recent sewer leakage.

The sewer leakage, or the “sewergate scandal” as it is known, resulted in the dumping of roughly 24 billion liters of untreated waste into Chedoke Creek (Sewergate: Hamilton faces…2019). This incident took place over the time period of 2014-2018, as the result of an unlatched sewer gate (Van Dogen 2020). The spill has been approximated to be equivalent in size to 10 000 olympic sized pools (Van Dogen 2020), a degree of pollution that will undoubtedly result in detrimental effects. The city of Hamilton opted to not disclose the full magnitude of the leakage, which has since led to warranted uproar amongst Hamilton citizens. These clandestine actions have led to immensely harmful impacts, both socioeconomically and environmentally.

The city of Hamilton plans to dedicate roughly 6.2 million dollars to the cleaning of chedoke creek, the overall cost to completely clean the creek could be around 150 million dollars however (Van Dogen 2021). Not only will this consume a significant amount of taxpayer money, but it will also entail numerous hours of work to fully restore the creek. The level of attention and money required will mean that less focus can be drawn towards other local environmental issues plaguing the Hamilton area. Highway pollution into the Chedoke creek, pollution into the Chedoke creek from the Kay Drage Park landfill, and Hamilton harbor pollution are just a few of the many factors threatening the Hamilton water ways (Van Dogen 2021). This level of socioeconomic strain demands proper accountability, and clarity from the government. 

While the Chedoke Creek sits like a vein in the heart of Hamilton, it drains directly into Cootes Paradise – in an area with a direct hydrological connection to Lake Ontario. Aside from the wounding effect that this level of pollution can have on Lake Ontario itself, Cootes Paradise will be subject to ruinous effects. Cootes Paradise provides a habitat for spawning fish and migratory birds, and this level of pollution will increase the area’s susceptibility to eutrophication. Eutrophication is the process by which a body of water moves from being oligotrophic to eutrophic, or in other words, moves from a body of low productivity to high productivity. This increased productivity is displaced through the increased presence of algae blooms, which deplete the oxygen in the area and can block vital sunlight needed for submerged vegetation. These cyanobacteria lurking in the water can be detrimental to the local health of the ecosystem. As a result of this eutrophication, the submerged vegetation can be choked out – a possibly detrimental effect to local populations of bowin and longnose gar. The sewer water supplies abnormally high amounts of nitrates, phosphates, and iron that can propagate cyanobacteria, leading to the development of algae blooms. These algae blooms will also lead to a depletion in the insect population in Cootes Paradise, affecting the feeding patterns of migratory birds in the area (Coward 2019). This depletion of oxygen in Cootes Paradise, and lower insect populations as a result, can be extremely harmful to the local swallow populations that feed off of these insects. The more desirable conditions for the propagation of cyanobacteria is a major concern for dissolved oxygen levels in Cootes Paradise, which could have detrimental effects if depleted.

“you as a Hamilton citizen have a right to the full disclosure of incidents such as this”

Given that the Hamilton area draws its water from Lake Ontario, what possible “river monsters” could this spill potentially have introduced? The introduction of sewer water into the Chedoke Creek and surrounding areas generates cause for concern around the propagation of microbial pathogens such as Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium parvum, and Escherichia coli Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum are the causative protozoan parasites of beaver fever and cryptosporidiosis respectively. Giardia infections are one of the most common gut parasite infections in humans, and can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, pain in the lower gut, and exhaustion (Bailey and Erramouspe 2004). In addition to this, Giardia has been known to lead to death in children under the age of five if left untreated, and can lead to weight loss and stunted growth in young children (Squire and Ryan 2017). Cryptosporidium is very similar both in prevalence and symptoms. Cryptosporidium infections can last up to a week long (Bailey and Erramouspe 2004), and have associated effects of diminished growth in children, malnourishment, and immunocompromisation (Squire and Ryan 2017). The causes of these diseases have been linked to contaminated water (Squire and Ryan 2017), and clearly manifest intensely in younger children. As Hamilton’s water supply undergoes wastewater treatment before it hits the city, it doesn’t seem to provide as great of a risk for infection. Consider however all of the young children who go to beaches such as confederation beach park, which is right adjacent to Cootes Paradise. Young children are more likely to face the adverse effects of these diseases, and are also very likely to accidentally ingest the water while swimming. The underdeveloped immune system of children increases their susceptibility to such diseases. Given the recent circumstance, there is sufficient cause for concern around water contamination in and around Cootes Paradise. Another cause for concern around this level of water contamination is the propagation of E.coli. Incidents such as the Walkerton crisis, in which water contamination from surrounding farms lead to an E.coli outbreak (Mullen et al 2007), outline the cause for concern around the sewergate scandal. E.coli outbreaks can be linked to severe illness and death (Mullen et al 2007), and as such, heavy pollution of sewer water into local water supplies should be of large concern. The addition of large amounts of contaminated water poses a serious threat for the introduction of pathogenic microbes that can be transmitted through fecal contamination into water.

This article is in no way intended to instill fear, but is merely meant to increase your consciousness around the way your local water is being treated. Water drawn in from Lake Ontario is subject to wastewater treatment before it ever hits the pipes in your house, and there are steps already being taken to reverse the damages to the Chedoke creek and surrounding areas. However, you as a Hamilton citizen have a right to the full disclosure of incidents such as this, and a right to demand a higher level of accountability and cautiousness. There needs to be a higher level of accountability from the local Hamilton council, and greater transparency around threats such as these. So what can you do to help? As with any local issue, awareness is the first step. Spread the word of the sewergate incident, and raise awareness around the issues affecting the Hamilton environment. If you are a particularly environmentally driven individual and are looking to get involved try volunteering in local clean up projects. Provided below are links to the Stewards of Cootes Paradise facebook page, and the escarpment project. These organizations are dedicated to cleaning Cootes Paradise and the local escarpment respectively. Projects such as these are important for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and protecting both local species and our drinking water supply. With this level of negligence, who knows what microbes could be lurking in your local water.

Getting Involved:

– The Escarpment Project:

– Stewards of Cootes Paradise:


-Sewergate: Hamilton faces new provincial order over sewage spill into Cootes Paradise. 2019 December 3. The Hamilton Spectator. Available at:

– Van Dongen M. City of Hamilton charged over infamous Sewergate spill into Chedoke Creek. 2020 December 9. The Hamilton Spectator. Available at:

-Van Dongen M. Sewergate: Study says a permanent fix for polluted Chedoke Creek will take years, cost tens of millions of dollars. 2021 June 30. The Hamilton Spectator. Available at:

Coward C. VIDEO: How Sewergate impacted Cootes Paradise. 2020 March 3. The Hamilton Spectator. Available at:

Squire SA, Ryan U. 2017. Cryptosporidium and Giardia in Africa: current and future challenges. Parasites and Vectors. [Accessed 2022 March 14]; 10(195): 1-32.

Bailey JM, Erramouspe J. 2004. Nitazoxanide Treatment for Giardiasis and Cryptosporidiosis in Children. Ann Pharmacother. [Accessed 2022 March 14]; 38: 634-640.


– Mullen J, Vladi N, Mills AJ. 2007. Making sense of the Walkerton crisis. Cult Organ. [Accessed 2022 March 15]; 12(3): 207-220.