With 2015 drawing to a close, what better time to look back at the events most affecting the lake? We looked at our newsletters, case summaries, and web traffic this year and compiled a list of the issues that caught your attention in 2015.
Grab a coffee and enjoy the recap!
Sewage in Toronto (and around the Great Lakes)
Case Status: Open
Since Toronto's summer flood in 2013, Waterkeeper has dedicated a lot of effort into helping the city's swimmers, paddlers, boaters, surfers, and beachgoers be more informed on their recreational water quality. In August 2015, after a lengthy review, the MOE responded to Waterkeeper’s review application and decided that Torontonians – and possibly all of Ontario – should receive wet weather and bypass notifications. Of course, we were thrilled. But 5 months later, Torontonians are still waiting for their first wet weather alert. (Even as we write this, a late December storm caused another sewage bypass at Ashbridges Bay.)
Going forward: Expect Waterkeeper to stay on top of every bypass in Toronto. We will continue to discuss recreational water quality and the unquestionable need for real-time wet weather alerts. This case will remain open until the City of Toronto begins alerting the public when wet weather threatens water quality.
Case Status: Open
Thousands of tiny plastics wash into lakes and rivers every day. While there are many sources of microplastics, this year saw a surge of public concern about the teeniest offenders: microbeads. These small plastic balls are often found in shampoos, toothpastes, and soaps. You wash or flush them and they end up in the closest waterbody.
In March 2015, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Ottawa Riverkeeper, asked the federal government to review of microbeads under federal law. The government then released an Order proposing that microbeads be added to the List of Toxic Substances – a great first step. As the Obama administration has recently done south of the border, the government is working on finalizing the ban on microbeads found in “personal care products used to cleanse or exfoliate.”
Going forward: The federal government review process is underway and we expect Canada to ban microbeads in personal care products in 2016. If the federal process fails, the Ontario government is also considering action.
In the meantime, Waterkeeper is investigating other sources of microplastics pollution, which now accounts for 80% of debris on the Great Lakes.
Refurbishing the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station (DNGS)
Case Status: Pending Closure
In 2011, OPG started a formal process to refurbish their Darlington nuclear power plant. Opportunities to intervene with nuclear plant assessments are rare. Having evidence that the power plant kills thousands of fish every year and pollutes the lake, Waterkeeper took this as an opportunity to encourage OPG and the CNSC to update DNGS’ outdated cooling system. Waterkeeper has since followed DNGS’ refurbishment development closely. Recently, Waterkeeper was one of 79 intervenors who presented at the Darlington Relicensing Day 2 hearing in Courtice, Ontario. Just before the holiday, regardless of all of the community concerns voiced at the hearing, the CNSC confirmed that OPG will receive an unprecedented 10-year licence renewal.
Going forward: Pending the outcome of a pre-existing legal challenge, opportunities for the public to help minimize the impacts of the Darlington plant on Lake Ontario are almost gone.
That doesn’t mean that Waterkeeper is done. We found the manner in which the CSNC responded to the community at the Day 2 hearing worrisome and want to ensure that environmental laws are applied equally across every industry. Stay tuned for a new report from Waterkeeper about Canada’s nuclear regulator, coming early in 2016.
Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act (GLPA)
Case Status: Closed
Three years ago, the Ontario government proposed a legislation that "would help restore and protect the great lakes so they stay drinkable, swimmable, fishable, for us, and for future generations." Waterkeeper has been involved in reviewing the GLPA in each of its three iterations. In October 2015, the Ontario government finally passed the Act and Waterkeeper couldn’t be more thrilled.
Going forward: With the GLPA, Ontarians have one more tool in environmental law to help protect and conserve its most precious resource. Our job now is to give it meaning and force.
Toronto Island / Billy Bishop Airport Expansion
Case Status: Closed
Since 2003, Waterkeeper has been monitoring proposals for expanding the island airport and participating in formal hearing processes. In addition to destroying fish habitat and interrupting navigational routes for paddlers and boaters in the harbour, Waterkeeper questioned the transparency of the proposed expansion project’s review process. In late 2015, the federal government called off negotiations and environmental studies were halted.
Going forward: Discussions about investment in Toronto’s waterfront can focus on improving fish, habitat, recreational water access, and navigation. These uses improve quality of life and community for all waterfront users and promote sustainable local economic development.
2015 was a challenging year. Our energy plans for the lake are not as innovative or as sustainable as they should be. Our sewage and stormwater pollution problems are a global embarrassment.
But the network of people working for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water is larger than ever before. Our programs benefited twice as many people in 2015 as in 2014. A clean water future is drawing nearer, one case at a time.