HAMILTON – The city of Hamilton’s water director says no one from Hamilton has been given the opportunity to explain to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council the risks and growing negative impacts on the natural world around Chedoke Creek if the project is delayed any longer.
In an interview with Two Row Times, Nick Winters, water director for the city of Hamilton says he does not believe the chiefs have been briefed on the current state of the waterway at all..
“It’s been very challenging to get into any conversations about the project and the real goals and what is being done to protect the species that are there,” said Winters.
Winters says he has not been given an opportunity, nor have city ecologists studying the waterway, had the chance to explain to Six Nations hereditary chiefs the nature of the contamination present in the creek, or to explain how it will be cleaned and the risks involved in further delays to cleaning it up.
“Anytime you are trying to reach the Confederacy, even if you are contacting other members of the HDI, you get steered back to Aaron Detlor,” said Winters.
“You tend to get challenged with the same responses all the time which is that ‘you haven’t consulted’, ‘we have concerns from a treaty rights perspective’ but then when you try to engage and ask what the concerns are there you don’t get anything back.”
Winters explained that the critical damage comes from the sewage spilled, which is now a layer of nutrient rich sediment sitting at the bottom of the creek. That sediment has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus – two nutrients that are throwing off the normal and natural balance of that waterway.
High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus can create a system where dangerous algae blooms begin to grow and deplete the waters of oxygen, creating a domino effect and further degradation to the entire ecosystem.
“Velocity of flow through the creek brings nutrients out, and when they become biologically available algae grows and that can cause oxygen depletion. That can have impacts on all manner of wildlife: fish, turtles, or other organisms,” said Winters.
Winters explained that Chedoke Creek flows into Cootes Paradise, which is home to the largest natural fish hatchery in the Great Lakes area.
“The longer an ecosystem experiences challenges such as increased nutrient loadings, it can change the balance of that ecosystem,” said Winters. “If there is an ongoing history of proliferation of excess algae growth, which leads to oxygen depletion, then native species can decide that this is not a healthy environment.”
Degraded ecosystems can promote invasive species, like carp, in low oxygen.
“Carp stir up the bottom of the creek beds in the lake which causes other issues with sunlight to penetrate the water. It starts to displace and change the ecosystem even more,” says Winters.
Winters says there is risk that native fish would become replaced by non native species in systems of low oxygen.
He says part of the challenge with the Chedoke Creek waterway is that there are multiple factors affecting the integrity of the water – including runoff from Highway 403 and a nearby closed off landfill that has documented ammonia leachate affecting the creek. The creek also continues to receive periodic sewer overflow.
This he says makes it hard to pin down what the impacts of the nutrient rich sediment is versus the impacts of all the other issues there. Winters says the city has implemented multiple environmental assessments at the Creek to look at options to how they can best protect Chedoke Creek and the plants and animals that call that area home.
Chedoke Creek holds 10,000 years of Iroquoian history. It is in an area known as Princess Point – one of the most ancient Indigenous gathering places and one of the most archaeologically significant areas in North America, with evidence showing it area was occupied by the Iroquois people as far back as 8000 BC all the way up to the 1650s.
Archeological studies in the 1970s revealed evidence in the area of the beginnings of maize agriculture and palisaded agricultural areas along with some of the earliest known evidence of longhouse-style living spaces.
The same traditional pathways and medicine fields that were used 10,000 years ago by the Iroquois people are still in the area, making the Chedoke Creek ecosystem one of the oldest known and living ecosystems in Ontario, connected to one of the oldest documented findings of Iroquoian culture on-record.
This ancient ecosystem is now at risk.
Winters says the ecological evidence of contamination is starting to show. Hamilton’s ecological studies of the creek have reported the water changing from a green to brown water color. There is a decline in desirable fish species and a noted lack of biodiversity at the site. While Winters says it is extremely difficult for anyone to say what the biggest factor is in impacting those changes – if there are more delays and if clean up work cannot begin, the negative impacts could be prolific.
Winters says that further environmental assessments still need to be done on the area, and the province and Hamilton city council still say they require HDI to engage on that work.