Since I was elected Mayor in 2010, my top environmental priority has been to clean up the Ottawa River. I believe this would be the perfect gift for future generations as Canada approaches its 150th birthday. We have made a lot of progress on this issue and I want to share how we will finish the job.

The issue

Ottawa is a city of almost 1 million people, and our roads and sewers are feeling the pressure. We need to invest in upgrades in order to protect our communities, green spaces, and waterways.

On the community level, we need to upgrade sewers and pipes that in some cases are over 140 years old. No one wants to see their basement flooded or their environment polluted.

In the older parts of Ottawa, storm water and household sewage mix together in the same pipe, called a combined sewer. When we experience heavy rainfall, this older part of the system is designed to avoid flooding by sending excess water into the Ottawa River. The unfortunate result is that some untreated sewage flows directly into the River as well.

Before I took office, in 2006, there were annual combined sewage overflow volumes of 1.09B litres into the Ottawa River. That’s the equivalent of 436 Olympic-sized swimming pools per year. Spills like these add to high bacteria counts in the Ottawa River, which can negatively impact the health of our river and our beaches.

Your water and sewer bill helps fund projects to solve these problems. In the nation’s capital, we cannot accept having sewage flow into the river behind Parliament nor see frequent pipe bursts in our neighbourhoods.

Progress so far:

In 2009, we started working on a set of infrastructure projects called the Ottawa River Action Plan. The action plan is focused on protecting the quality of the Ottawa River by reducing the volume of combined sewage overflows and reducing the impact of stormwater on the Ottawa River.

The City partnered with the federal and provincial governments to significantly enhance key parts of our wastewater infrastructure. This has included maximizing our use of the capacity available in our existing sewer system, better pipe monitoring, separating storm sewers from sanitary sewers and measures to reduce the risk of basement flooding. We also completed a lot of sewer work as a part of other road projects to ensure we did not need to tear up streets more than once.

The progress to date has been remarkable. These efforts have led to a reduction of sewage overflow volumes of up to 80 per cent in recent years. These improvements are also helping to ensure the consistent delivery of drinking water to our homes and reduce the risk of basement flooding.

Finishing the job:

All three levels of government have committed the remaining funds to complete the most significant remaining project under the Ottawa River Action Plan, called the Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel. In essence, we will construct large underground storage tunnels to be used during heavy rainfall. The extra water will flow into the tunnels instead of the river. Once the rainfall has ended, the tunnels will drain as the sewage and stormwater is taken to the plant for treatment. When this project is complete, Ottawa’s sewage overflows will be dramatically reduced to only one or two occurrences in most years.

The tunnels will be constructed as two deep tunnels underneath Kent and Albert/Slater Streets, totalling approximately six kilometres. You can find more information on the City’s website.

We are moving ahead swiftly. Some of the work on this part of the project will be undertaken in Summer 2015 as part of the Confederation Line LRT project near Lebreton Flats. For the larger remaining portions, we will secure a construction contractor before the end of 2015 and start work in 2016. We will ensure the downtown core is free from any disruption that would impact the 2017 celebrations, and work towards full completion of the project in 2019.