I grew up in Oshawa, right along the shores of Lake Ontario. Like many Canadians, exploring the outdoors came naturally. But the one place I frequently avoided was the lake.
I grew up believing it wasn’t safe to drink the water, eat the fish, or even touch the water. Like many people, my time growing up along the lake didn't actually include the lake. The lake was just part of the scenery.
Only later did I learn that most of Lake Ontario is clean enough for swimming most of the time.
That’s why thousands of Torontonians find relief from the heat by jumping into the lake each summer.
Who can blame them? Toronto has some fantastic beaches.
I missed out, because I grew up believing that Lake Ontario could only be “clean” or “dirty.” I didn’t understand that sewage and stormwater flow into the lake after heavy rains or when pipes are connected wrong. I didn’t understand that bacteria counts can be sky-high one week and then disappear the next.
The lake, like us, changes.
That’s why I’m passionate about water quality education. I believe everyone should enjoy the Great Lakes at our doorstep. I also believe people should have access to reliable water quality data when they need it, and where they need it.
Join me this Saturday, March 21 at 1pm at the Brick Works for
“5 Things You Need to Know for a Swimmable Summer.”
That’s why the July 2013 flood made such an impact on me.
If you were in Toronto in 2013, you might remember the day the city received a massive amount of rain – an entire year’s worth of rain fell in a few short hours.
The storm caused flooding and city-wide power outages. The Humber River wastewater treatment plant lost power. More than 1-billion litres of sewage washed into Lake Ontario. Sewers backed up into streets and parks. The public was never informed that these floodwaters contained bacteria, that touching it posed a risk to their health and well-being.
I couldn’t believe the public wasn’t alerted, but I also understood the storm was a time of crisis.
I did not understand what happened next.
The days following the storm were hot and sunny. Of course, Toronto’s swimmers, paddlers, and boaters headed to the water. And most had no idea they were in contaminated water.
When Waterkeeper raised concerns that Torontonians were being unknowingly exposed to shockingly high levels of pollution, city officials first downplayed the issue.
That’s not okay. To keep Torontonians healthy and to assist with public awareness, Waterkeeper Mark Mattson and I submitted a request to the Ministry of the Environment to notify the public when sewage bypasses occur. The results of the MOE’s review will be out by June 30, 2015, just in time for swimming season.
In the meantime, you can learn more about swimming and boating in Toronto’s amazing waters.
Join me this Saturday, March 21 at 1pm at the Brick Works for “5 Things You Need to Know for a Swimmable Summer.” By the end of this 1-hour workshop, you’ll have the knowledge you’ll need to stay safe while you’re on the water. See you there!