The Ontario Ministry of Environment has announced that it will spend the next year studying the efforts of major municipalities to clean up local beaches on Lake Ontario. Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines, and Kingston will be under provincial scrutiny for their failure to ensure their beaches are open at least 95% of the summer.
"In light of the Ministry's consideration of your submission, the Ministry will look into the adequacy of Pollution Prevention Control Plans for the cities of Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines and Kingston as well as the use of voluntary versus mandatory measures," wrote the Assistant Deputy Minister.
The decision comes in response to a request filed under the Environmental Bill of Rights. The request, drafted by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and supported by Lynda Lukasik (then of Environment Hamilton), includes evidence that these four major cities on Lake Ontario are all failing to comply with the province's standards for clean beaches.
The Ministry of Environment is not required to investigate Waterkeeper's complaint under provincial law, but has launched the one-year study because of its concern for the serious impacts of combined sewer overflows on Lake Ontario?s beaches.
The initiative will also address the issue of voluntary versus mandatory abatement. In our submission, Waterkeeper expressed concern that municipalities may ignore the provincial policy for clean beaches because it is not a binding rule. Justice O'Connor highlighted the problem with voluntary standards in his report from the Walkerton tainted water inquiry:
Mandatory orders carry greater force than voluntary measures. If they are breached, they can result in the commencement of enforcement procedures. Voluntary abatement tools, on the other hand, can result in confusion. The clear message behind them is that the deficiency is not as serious as one that would merit a mandatory order.
If the standards set out in the provincial policy were being met, we would be able to swim at urban beaches at least 95% of every summer. Only two of twenty-one city beaches surveyed by Lake Ontario met this standard in two years (2003 and 2004).
Waterkeeper sent a letter to the Ministry of Environment today indicating its support for the review.