Yesterday, Waterkeeper's VP Krystyn Tully presented our much-anticipated Toronto Harbour Report to a room filled with boaters, paddlers, surfers, swimmers, and water lovers from around the city. Attendees watched as all of our findings were revealed in our video report, which will be published online in December. In case you weren't able to attend, here is a sneak peek.
Earlier this year, we asked people to support an Indiegogo campaign to fund water sampling in the Toronto Harbour. Thanks to their support, we were able to sample harbour water quality from July through September. The Waterkeeper Investigation team collected 166 samples to try to understand what, if any, impact sewage pollution was having on the harbour.
The results are in.
First thing’s first. We identified nine locations where sewage pollution enters Toronto Harbour, in addition to the Keating Channel where the Don River flows into the harbour.
Those nine locations have outfalls connected to pipes containing sewage from homes and businesses. When there is too much sewage, those pipes are designed to overflow into the lake to relieve pressure on the system.
We don’t know exactly how often the pipes overflow or how much sewage and contaminated stormwater enters the harbour. We do know that pollution hotspots are common after rain; 73% of all the failed sample results came from samples collected after rain. Current best estimates are that overflows happen about once per week – more if it’s rainy and less if it’s dry.
But rain was not the only factor. The worst site on the harbour was at the foot of Bathurst Street, near the community centre.
In addition to the pipes that flow into the harbour, we wanted to confirm if the Don River had an impact. City and consultant reports say it does. Statements made to media and sent to us via social media last year say it doesn’t. When it rains and that brown plume flows across the centre of Toronto Harbour, does it contain bacteria? Or is it just sediment from the river?
It was a dry summer, so our plan to “chase the plume” took a long time to implement. Finally, we got a dose of rain in July, the plume showed up on harbour cameras, and we headed out in our boat.
The result? Yes, when heavy rain pushes Don River water into the centre of Toronto Harbour, bacteria levels are higher than government standards for both swimming and boating.
The good news is that, on most days, the center of the harbour and the island side is relatively clean.
That means that if we can shut off the sewage pollution, Toronto Harbour would rebound very quickly.
Our goal with the project was to protect public and environmental health. We wanted to figure out what boaters in the harbour need to know to be safe on the water. We learned that they need regular water quality monitoring. Conditions change very quickly, so they need routine monitoring to tell them when bacteria levels are elevated and they need to use precautions.
We also came to understand that the “right to know” about the health of the harbour is a big deal for the public. Even if they aren’t water users, they want to know what’s happening on their lake. And they want to help win back Toronto Harbour.
We’d love to bring back the Waterkeeper Investigation Team in 2017. We can sample the harbour regularly and use our Swim Guide app to push updated water quality reports to harbour users.