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What is the Harbour Solutions Project?

Halifax Harbour, one of the best deepwater, ice-free ports in the world, was polluted by over 181,000,000 litres per day of untreated water, both sanitary and storm wastewater.

Conditions in the harbour had deteriorated over time, and would have continued to do so, without action. Many attempts had been made during previous decades to implement a Halifax Harbour solution, but only now are the citizens of the Halifax Region finally seeing a strategy implemented. Halifax Regional Council proceeded with the Halifax Harbour Solutions project, designed to eliminate the flow of raw sewage and other contaminants into the world-famous Halifax Harbour.

The state of Halifax Harbour prior to sewage treatment showed the significant effects of pollutants discharged to the harbour through untreated sanitary, storm and combined sewer outfalls. As a result:

  • shellfish harvesting is prohibited in the harbour;
  • large areas of contaminated sediment exist around some forty separate outfalls;
  • water quality was poor along the shorelines;
  • bacterial contamination was widespread;
  • and aesthetics were poor along the Halifax/Dartmouth waterfronts due to particulates, floatables and odour.

All of these things had a detrimental affect on the reputation of our municipality and our region, and carry both economic as well as environmental impacts. Therefore, a small-scale, affordable solution was developed, to be phased in over time, providing basic treatment for all untreated sewer discharges.

The Harbour Solutions Advisory Committee (PDF 747KB) , a broadly-based stakeholder group appointed by HRM, developed a set of recommendations to advance the project, building on the consensus results of the Halifax Harbour Solutions Symposium hosted by the municipality in November, 1997.

A consulting group retained by HRM used these recommendations, together with the extensive studies and data available on the harbour, to develop a Concept Plan (PDF 4.3MB) to achieve advanced primary-level treatment for all untreated discharges and meet the desired water quality objectives.

During the past four decades, there have been many studies of the harbour and various plans advanced to provide for sewage treatment. Two plants have been built on the harbour during this period at Mill Cove, on Bedford Basin, and at Eastern Passage, near the harbour mouth. However, the majority of sewage continued to enter the harbour untreated.

HRM developed a phased approach, involving three advanced primary-level treatment plants which were phased in over time, at reduced cost. There will be significant environmental and economic benefits from this project:

  • Water quality in the harbour was projected to improve to achieve desired objectives;
  • Regulatory requirements will be met;
  • The reputation of our municipality and region will be greatly enhanced , with resulting benefits to the local economy, as well as to Canada's reputation as an environmental leader.

In many ways, this is an economic development project as well as an environmental rehabilitation and enhancement project.

Public opinion polls underlined citizen's support for the project and the first tangible signs of a construction start on the project took place as we entered the new millennium. Results showed that 80% of respondents felt it is very important to have a new sewage treatment system for the harbour. Over 60% of those who pay a water bill were willing to pay an additional surcharge in support of the project, and a clear majority were willing to pay an extra $100 or more annually. Because of the significant public support in the community for this project, stakeholder contributions through the Harbour Solutions Symposium and Advisory Committee have been instrumental in advancing the project. Public support has been consistently high, and there was growing public pressure to take action on the state of the harbour.

The project called for completion of the Halifax Harbour collection systems and the construction of three new treatment plants:

  • one at Cornwallis Street/Lower Water Street area in Halifax;
  • one in the Dartmouth Cove/Sandy Cove area
  • one at Herring Cove

Moving Forward

The Harbour Solutions Project consisted of four key components:

  • Sewage Collection System, including outfalls, diffusers and access roads
  • Sewage Treatment Plants design and construction
  • Operation of Sewage Treatment Plants
  • Biosolids (sludge) management

The project was completed by 2010, and continues to provide greatly improved water quality in Halifax Harbour.