On Friday October 1, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper filed a request for a review of Ontario's beach protection policy with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. The request, launched under the Environmental Bill of Rights, alleges that no municipality in the Golden Horseshoe is in compliance with Procedure F-5-5 under the Ontario Water Resources Act.
In its formal submission, Waterkeeper submits that Toronto, Hamilton and St. Catharines have all failed to eliminate E. coli discharges in dry weather, minimize potential impacts on human and aquatic life, or ensure that our beaches are open 95% of the summer.
Waterkeeper does not regard beaches as luxury items that the government can decide to give or take from us at will. Instead, they are seen as assets that belong to our neighbourhoods.
Waterkeeper took samples at sewage outlets in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Nearly 70% of all samples taken during the three summers had elevated levels of E. coli - levels that soared as much as 2,000 times higher than what is considered safe for human and aquatic life.
High E. coli levels were the cause of regular beach closures in Lake Ontario's major cities. Waterkeeper notes that the frequency of these beach closures is increasing in every region. Toronto's best years were in 1997 and 1998. Its worst years since reporting began ten years ago were 2000, 2001, and 2004. Hamilton and St. Catharines also saw increases in beach closure rates in 2004.
From Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's perspective, closing a beach is like committing an act of theft. It is the act of taking an asset away from the community without any compensation or apology. The three year study suggests that the people who are most affected also happen to be city-dwellers, youth, and those without summer cottages to escape to.
In its submission, Waterkeeper noted that Procedure F-5-5 is the one piece of policy or legislation in the province that can effectively protect urban waterfronts and encourage pollution prevention.
The fear is that, as long as Procedure F-5-5 is ignored, we will continue to see beach closures. And a closed beach tells us there is sewage in the water. With sewage comes waterborne disease and industrial chemicals, and that's a real source of concern.
Waterkeeper is requesting that the Province of Ontario review Procedure F-5-5 and implement changes that will make it effective. These changes could include making the voluntary policy mandatory or issuing control orders to bring municipalities into compliance.