Surface drainage appeals to politicians more than sewers

I am glad to see Federal funding for reducing the pollution of the Ottawa River. It is about time governments — Federal, Provincial, and Municipal — stopped giving themselves free passes to pollute public waterways.

The City of Ottawa has on numerous occasions averted its eyes from the sewage it dumps in the river. I think it is because politicians don’t see much political value in underground sewers. Once built, you can’t see them.  Much better to spend money on visible projects, especially if they are visible around election time.

As we reached “peak sewer” in the 1990’s and realized we couldn’t just keep draining and piping away the sewage and rainfall, the concept of surface storage ponds came along. The first ones, you may recall, had steep sides and were fenced off for safety.



Must avert eyes.

But a surprising (to engineers) thing happened. People liked sewage ponds. They attracted birds and wildlife. People paid high premiums for residential lots adjacent wetlands. A few new ponds came with walking trails nearby. Later, the fencing became more selective.

Now storage ponds are deliberately landscaped more in keeping with recreational environments.

No, we aren’t swimming in them.


In other cities (and they have been featured on this blog numerous times) storage ponds have now become “rain gardens” and are prominent features of urban parks and high income neighbourhoods.

And this past winter I came across some prominent  politically visible sewer infrastructure:


This is on the shores of Lake Kissimmee in Florida. It looks sorta like a cockpit set in the ground. Or a greenhouse?

Actually, its a viewing port into a sewer:



Looking in, you can actually see the filters and settling bins for cleaning waterborn junk.



I confess to being rather surprised to see this, but not the surface stormwater ponds nearby that were a prominent feature of this waterfront park:



Note that all that infrastructure is not fenced off. Nor signed as “no trespassing”.

I came across the same transparent sewer facility in Dunedin, Fl. too, that then drained into the bioswale or “rain garden” just beyond:


BTW, notice the nice wide pathway for people who cycle, and the parallel but distinct walking path. Oh, and the bike repair station with tools and airpump. And benches. And garbage can. And bike racks. And paved connection to the city street network.

Look at this site:


Lovely park, eh? Very inviting.  Actually, it’s a sewer treatment plant conservation park, complete with sewer lagoons. All very tasteful.



Once politicians get familiar with the idea of visible sewers, we’ll see a lot more of them. I can’t wait.




6 thoughts on “Surface drainage appeals to politicians more than sewers

  1. I think many people would be fascinated by seeing more of the water treatment infrastructure.
    I went to the Robert Pickard treatment plant during Doors Open and it was packed! People love to know where all the s..t goes.

  2. Thanks for exposing your readers to Florida’s new and better way to work with and celebrate good wastewater management.
    Here in Ottawa, it’s good to hear that the “deal” between levels of government is in place. However, I have strong concerns about the City of Ottawa’s ability to manage the wastewater needs of the proposed condo and commerical and office development it so strongly supports: Windmill Development group’s plans to build a mega-complex on Chaudiere and Albert Islands in the Ottawa River.
    How does this support a clean and revitalized Ottawa River? More than 5,300 people are expected to live on the site, and how many thousands more will be using it each day? A hotel, office space, and commercial shops are part of the plan.
    Will this kind of over-development sink the islands?

    1. The project is not mega by any means and by the way only 3000 will live on there not the over 50000 that seem seem to think.

  3. The ponds being built in areas of new development are Storm Water Mangement Ponds that collect water from surface runoff through a separate storm water sewer system. These ponds filter water as it slowly seeps into the ground. And, all storm-water management ponds have an overflow feature that if the pond overflows that the excess flows into our creeks, streams and rivers.

    The word “sewage” I think is reserved for what comes from households, wherther from the kitchen sink or bathroom and which goes to the ROPEC treatment facility in the east end of town.

    It is because older parts of town do not have separated storm water sewer system, but only one sewer system that combines street run-off with household sewage, that we have pipe capacity issues of bringing the combined flows to ROPEC for treatment whenever we have any rain event.

    Until the Ottawa River Project came along, the city would simply divert the combined overflow directly into the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers. The idea behind the underground storage tanks is to hold the overflow which would then be released back into the pipes to ROPEC over the quiet hours (late night hours). This approach would allow most all collected waste water to be treated before being returned back into the Ottawa River. And yes, if the tanks get filled up, the further overflows still get dumped directly into the Ottawa River. The trick is to build large enough storage tanks to accept everything up to the 100 year rain events. Available budget and costs will be two factors on how large the storage tanks. Another limiting factor is the size of the pipes to ROPEC and the spare capacity of these pipes to empty the storage tanks.

    As further very intense development in the city’s core proceeds in areas where there is only a combined system of waste water and storm water, more volume will need to be diverted to storage tanks during rain events and there will be less available capacity in existing pipes to bring the stored waste water to ROPEC in the late night hours,

    1. I like the combo of rain water / runoff management ponds and parkland. In the inner urban areas, redevelopment and intensification should reduce flood events (not increase them) as new developments have to store 100% of the rainfall on site and let it meter out over time (such as 24 hours) to avoid overloading pipes. For some projects, the impacts can be significant. For example, a little six storey condo on Booth lost two parking spots in their garage to put in the giant plastic tanks that hold run off from their roofs. For a nearby townhouse project, the catchbasins divert rain into a large pipe under their parking lot, which stores the rainfall and meters it out into the main sewer.

      As for the sins of combined sewers … I rather suspect in a few years there will be huge calls to treat stormwater runoff more like sewage, ie to be treated. Combined sewers might come back into fashion … and I still think it is cowardly of the City not to restrict excess paving in the urban areas. for every new development that manages storm water, another bunch are unregulated and cheerfully pave, pave, pave. this includes homeowners too.

      1. Yes, some of the stuff coming out of storm sewers is pretty foul.

        Along the old CPR line next to the SJAM Parkway (yes, there), there’s a crossing of an old creek bed that now emerges from the adjacent townhouse condominium development and the neighbourhood beyond. There’s absolutely no discernible life in this creekbed, nor where it enters the Ottawa River on the other side of the Parkway.

        There definitely is some advantage in having these waters treated.

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