Good news! The City of Toronto will soon tell you you when wet weather is likely to affect water quality in Lake Ontario.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change made the recommendation after a year-long investigation prompted by Waterkeeper. Concerned that people are boating and swimming without appropriate water quality information, we filed the request for review under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
The Ministry’s decision is GREAT news for Torontonians.
Here’s why, and here’s what might happen next:
What’s the problem?
When heavy rains overwhelm Toronto’s sewer system, partially-treated sewage flows into Lake Ontario. Human contact with sewage-contaminated water can result in serious health concerns including eye, ear, nose, throat infections. The pollution is also harmful to the plants and animals that live in Lake Ontario.
Unfortunately, no one is alerting the public when wet weather or treatment plant bypasses may be affecting water quality.
Why is public notice so important?
Obviously the main goal is to stop releasing contaminated water into Lake Ontario. Until that goal is achieved, public alerts give people the information they need to protect their health. Alerts also provide real-time, factual information that helps the public understand the state of our urban infrastructure.
What happens next?
First, the City of Toronto will start issuing some kind of wet weather advisories. These advisories “will be communicated to the public following all wet weather events.” We do not know if this means a media alert, social media updates, RSS feed updates, or some other form of notification and eagerly await more information from the City of Toronto and/or the Ministry of the Environment.
Waterkeeper did submit a model alert with our application last year, just to illustrate how simple the messaging can be.
Second, there will be more transparency around bypass events, including real-time reports to the public. It is not yet known whether this will be unique to the City of Toronto, a province-wide requirement, or a test initiative in Toronto that would later be adopted province-wide. The Ministry’s response suggests that this process will take longer than the wet-weather advisory process.
Thank you to the thousands of recreational water users who supported Waterkeeper’s campaign in the last two summers.
This is an opportunity for Torontonians to establish themselves as water leaders in Canada and on the Great Lakes. We could be the best-informed, most-engaged recreational water users if the alert system is sound.
Here are three ways you can help:
- Donate to Waterkeeper. Help us work for transparency and access to water quality information.
- Like the Toronto Recreational Water Users Facebook group. Receive information alerts from Waterkeeper and (hopefully soon!) the City of Toronto.
- Share this message with a friend. When you keep the conversation alive, you involve more people in creating a future where we can all safely swim, drink, and fish.