Make no mistake: The decision by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Energy to require that Toronto notify the public when bypasses occur is a huge decision.
The City of Toronto has been resistant to the idea. When the city released 1-billion litres of partially treated sewage into the lake during a massive storm in 2013, a city official told the national press that “it didn’t affect the water quality.” Samples collected by the city, province, and Waterkeeper showed otherwise.
When the Ministry’s decision became public, another city official stated that more alerts would desensitize the public.
And yet, I still believe that the City of Toronto is posed to become a leader on recreational water protection.
As Toronto goes, so goes the Great Lakes. The city is the largest in the country. Its political influence rivals, if not equals, the Ministry of the Environment’s.
When Toronto sits down with the province to negotiate the sewage bypass notice rules, it has a choice: be a leader and advocate for a public alerts system that responds to the needs and desires of Torontonians or push back against the regulator and argue for the minimum information-sharing that the public will bear.
The leadership option is obviously the best when it comes to protecting public health and respecting residents’ right to know what is in their lake.
It’s the best option both for Torontonians and for Ontarians at large.
The province has already indicated that what happens in Toronto should be rolled out to other parts of Ontario. For the millions of beach-goers, paddlers, and boaters who adore the province’s waterbodies, let’s hope it is a great system.