This year has been an amazing year for Lake Ontario. I wanted to take time to update you on one of the most exciting restoration projects on the Great Lakes in modern memory, one that we hope will change the way we approach restoration forever.
It all started about this time last year, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation was looking to invest $1 million in protecting the Great Lakes. They made it clear that they wanted to do something radically different. They wanted to invest in projects that set the bar higher than ever before. In short, they wanted to truly connect people with water. Swim Drink Fish Canada is honoured to have been chosen as the organization to administer these projects with the foundation.
After reviewing hundreds of projects we were drawn to three projects that we knew would make a bold statement about the direction of this program. We choose the City of Kingston's Breakwater Park redevelopment in Kingston, Ontario Stream's work to Save the Redside Dace throughout the Greater Toronto Area and Credit Valley Conservation Authority's Restoration of Second Creek in Terra Cotta Conservation Area.
As a means of investing in a pipeline of future projects we also choose to sponsor volunteer-led sampling programs in various locations. Our hope is that we can identify projects at these locations that will restore a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future.
We are now nearly halfway through this the first year of The Great Lakes Challenge. It’s been a busy summer and we have a lot of updates:
Breakwater Park: Kingston
Breakwater Park will set an example for other Great Lakes cities around the province. The improvements include water monitoring, stormwater infrastructure but most importantly water access points that help residents to physically enjoy all that their Lake has to offer.
It all started with the story of Kingston’s waterfront revolution. The public, activated by local organizations and artists, cried out for safe access to the lake. The City listened, and listened a lot. They conducted exhaustive consultation and created an ambitious 30 year plan including a variety of projects on Kingston’s waterfront. Breakwater Park is one of those projects.
Our organization talks often about the water quality problems at Toronto’s Inner Harbour due to raw sewage pollution from combined sewer outflows(CSO). I’m not exaggerating when I say that Breakwater Park in Kingston was just as bad, if not worse in this regard. That’s right; just a few years ago this picturesque park located across the street from Queens was under threat from unmitigated raw sewage outflows. You won’t believe how much this has changed.
The city’s plan wisely built in the need for partners both from other levels of government and private organizations. This is where we are happy to help. Thanks to the generous contribution of $500,000 from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, this project will be completed a full year earlier than anticipated.
Kingston is an excellent example of our principle of connecting people to water. Once the City committed to encouraging not discouraging the public to enter the water at Breakwater Park they had to address their CSOs. While they have committed to fully replacing the outdated CSO system by 2020 they have upgraded various locations including Breakwater Park. The addition of cisterns at the outflows in Breakwater Park has all but eliminated overflows during rain events. This past summer during an extreme rain event Breakwater Park saw no overflows.
How do we know this? This is the coolest part. Utilities Kingston recently unveiled their first of its kind real-time sewage monitoring system for all CSOs in the city. This mobile accessible website allows the public to view the current state of the CSOs.The internal sensors automatically alert people when sewage is flowing out of the pipes. When it stops the system warns people to avoid the water for 48 hours and then gives the green light when the threat has cleared. Talk about transparency.
And Kingston is going to need this information because when Breakwater Park opens up it’s going to be hard to keep Kingstonians and visitors out of Lake Ontario! Honestly, I can’t say enough about this park but it’s worth the hype.
In June of 2017 I proudly sat in the Kingston City Council Chambers as they voted unanimously to name the renovated PUC Dock after Swim Drink Fish Canada board member and Kingston native Gord Downie in honour of his work to connect people to water. As part of this development the Gord Edgar Downie Pier will be the first urban natural swimming pier of its kind in Canada. This is a revolution in urban waterfront development in Canada. What better way to connect people to water and honour the valuable contributions of Gord has made over the years to protecting Lake Ontario.
A new bridge will connect the pier to the main trail and invite water access like never before. Where once the pier was adorned with massive NO SWIMMING signs there will be ladders to make it easier for people to enter and exit the water.
The pier is just one of the exciting features of the new Breakwater Park. Our funding focused on areas that restore the swimmability, drinkability and fishability of Kingston’s shoreline.
A pebble beach renewal, removal of hazardous boulders and erosion protections will restore fish habitat and give a better shoreline to promote water access for a variety of recreational pursuits. The city will install a sandy beach area that will draw people down to the shore and provide a new experience on Kingston’s shoreline.
When the park opens next summer, these improvements to Breakwater Park will not only connect the residents of Kingston to Lake Ontario but serve as a destination for all kinds of visitors as well. I can hear you marking your calendars already. I can’t wait to see you there!
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago this area was a no go. It’s easy to lose hope in the fight for a swimmable drinkable fishable future. Kingston’s Breakwater Park is an example of that hope returning. It’s the shining light on the shoreline that we can point to. They’ve raised the bar and I can’t wait for other lake side communities to follow suit.
Save the Redside Dace: Greater Toronto Area
Be warned, this charismatic little cyprinid is about to steal you heart. How do I know? It’s totally stolen mine.
The unique qualities of the redside race, its nearly exclusive residency in the Greater Toronto Area as well as the direct connection between its habitat loss and human activity, make this initiative a remarkable opportunity to make a difference in our watershed.
The redside dace is a federally and provincially designated endangered species of cyprinid or minnow measuring only about 7.5 - 11cm. Their silvery body is adorned with a red, black and yellow stripe running about halfway along its sides. They have an elongated bottom jaw specially designed for catching their prey. But this is the best part; the prey that makes up the vast majority of its diet is actually flying insects from outside the stream. Its large eyes tell us that it is a visual hunter. It spots its prey above the water and then flies through the air to catch this prey in fantastic fashion.
We have partnered with Ontario Streams to help repair and restore redside dace habitat in streams and rivers throughout the GTA. The work includes the planting of thousands of native shrubs and live stakes of vegetation, the regrading and maintenance of thousands of metres of shoreline including garbage clean-up, removal of fish barriers and fallen trees. Ontario Streams will also analyse stream health with a variety of measurements and data loggers.
Beyond the funding so generously provided to the Great Lakes Challenge from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Swim Drink Fish Canada is also hard at work to spread the word about the redside dace through investments in engagement and educational material.
We have partnered with Kidoons Productions to develop a redside dace cartoon that brings this charismatic cyprinid to life while discussing all the threats to their survival. Here’s your sneak peel before our public launch.
This cartoon and the supporting educational material we developed will find a home with another amazing partner, the Toronto Zoo. They have long provided some of the best Great Lakes focused curriculum and we are excited that our redside dace material will be part of that, circulated to over 10,000 students each year in Ontario.
This soon to be famous minnow now adorns the first mural in the new Bentway Park near Fort York in Toronto designed by Montreal artist Olivier Bonnard. Beyond being beautiful, the mural will serve as a reminder of how the survival of the redside dace is connected to the health and survival of the watershed we share and rely on. My sincerest thanks go out to Love Letters to the Great Lakes for making this happen!
Recently our film crew and I headed out to Fletcher’s Creek in Brampton to document our restoration work for the redside dace. The first day of filming was, in a word, magical! Not to brag too much but that day was the first time I personally saw a redside dace. It leapt out of the water, right in front of me.
The next day couldn’t have been more different. We arrived to discover a spill with potentially devastating consequences for the fish living downstream, specifically our redside dace.
The spill came directly from a storm drain owned by the City of Brampton. This should be an important reminder to every single one of us; those storm drains at the end of our driveway, that we walk by or bike over each and everyday, flow directly into a body of water without any means of filtration or treatment.
Thankfully our film crew was there, not only to report but to document this spill. So many spills go unreported or ignored and I knew that with our passionate and informed crew and partners on site that was absolutely not going to be the case this time. But truthfully anyone and everyone is more than capable of doing the same thing, albeit it without a drone for great shots like this.
This project presents an amazing opportunity to start a conversation about the health of our streams and rivers. We hope to use these projects to launch our Streams and Rivers Pollution campaign as part of the Great Lakes Challenge.
Our forthcoming campaign will focus on the important task of simply observing our streams and rivers. Being mindful to take a peek as we go about our day can mean the difference between a spill being report and cleaned up and a spill devastating an ecosystem without anyone knowing. The signs of pollution are simple to spot. Together we will help safeguard our rivers and streams and in turn prevent the destruction of our watershed for generations to come.
What I’ve learned from working on this project is that it is the characteristics of this little fish that hold the key to spreading the awareness about pollutants such as stormwater runoff. As an indicator species, the redside dace does an amazing job at making us care about what we are doing to his habitat and the health of our watershed. The survival of the redside dace is part of a swimmable drinkable fishable Great Lakes. Saving this charismatic cyprinid is the same as saving ourselves so we better get to it. As the kids say, we are all the redside dace.
Second Creek: Terra Cotta Conservation Area
Swim Drink Fish Canada is proud to partner with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVC) on the final stage of the work to restore the flow of Second Creek in the Terra Cotta Conservation area.
Originally, the Second Creek flowed through what is now the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, its natural meanders, riffles and pools provided habitat for a variety of fish. Years ago, among a variety of changes to Terra Cotta Conservation Area, the creek was dammed into three ponds cutting off the natural flow and destroying the natural meanders, riffles and pools.
Our ideas about conservation have evolved since then. Terra Cotta Conservation Area is a great example of that evolution. Originally the conservation area was manicured and landscaped to be more aesthetically appealing to visitors. "Natural" was thought to be unruly and unappealing. One of the many wetlands in Terra Cotta was transformed into a concrete chlorinated swimming pool.
Throughout the last several decades the increased urbanization of the Great Lakes basin has compromised the quality of our streams and rivers and decreased fish habitat for a variety of species. On the Credit River alone officials estimate that there are 666 fish dams and online ponds in the credit river watershed.
Our knowledge about the effects of human development on nature have deepened and with it our concept of conservation. Recently, CVC officials dismantled the pool and restored the wetland. Returning the flowing water to Second Creek has had a cascading benefit to the surrounding eco-system. Not the least of which is the benefit to the brook trout whose habitat continues to be under threat.
Brook trout are a native species of cold water fish. Their habitat is cold clear water, mostly streams and rivers with overhanging vegetation and of course meanders, riffles and pools. Human development has reduced the supply of these ideal rivers and streams. The brook trout is also nearly 6 inches smaller than the more aggressive brown trout. Couple that competition for food with the rising water temperatures from Climate Change and it’s not a good time to be a brook trout looking for a place to start a family. But with this project, we’re going to do our part to give those brook trout a safe haven to grow and prosper.
Our project will complete the restoration of the third of three ponds that was dammed years ago (Muskrat Pond). Funds from the Great Lakes Challenge will contribute directly to dam removal and creek restoration costs. This will create almost 9,000 m² of shoreline habitat and reconnect 2.5-kilometres of stream to the Credit River.
This coming spring we will work with the conservation authority to prepare interpretive signage that will inform the public of the need to eliminate fish barriers and specifically the importance of the work to connect Second Creek. All of this is absolutely vital because as Terra Cotta shows us our ideas about conservation have evolved a lot over the past several decades. Our hope is that this important work means that our collective understanding of preserving nature will continue to evolve and inspire the next generation of water stewards to improve on the good work we are helping with today.
Water Quality Sampling: Various Locations
We know that we don’t need to be a scientist to make a difference, you just have to care about our watershed. Using this principle we have, for years, relied on the citizen science and hard work of volunteers to identify the threats to a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Great Lakes.
Through the Great Lakes Challenge we’ve worked alongside members of the local community to monitor the water quality of four recreation access points. We will then work with experts to propose solutions to restore swimmable, drinkable, fishable future in these areas.
This summer we began monitoring Breakwater Park ahead of the opening of the redevelopment as well as across the way in Wolfe Island. The results told us a lot about the way that water flows around the area informing us of potential projects for the future. When people see you testing the water they just have to ask questions. Those conversations inevitably lead to their thoughts on the lake and when they are inspired by the idea of safe and healthy access the most amazing thing happens, hope fills them and the possibilities are endless. This work also helped us foster relationships with prospective future partners.
We have also identified three other recreational water use areas that are candidates for restoration; Brant Beach in Burlington, a paddling zone in the Toronto Harbour, and Wellington Beach in Prince Edward County. These locations all have poor water quality records, they are located near areas that are otherwise clean (in other words, the cause of the problem is a specific, ongoing source of pollution), and they serve a community of water users who have been asking for - and not receiving - help to solve the problem.
An amazing first year is underway!
For generations our civilization has been in a state of environmental decline. The decline of the Great Lakes, our cherished resources, has outpaced the rest of the world. What if we could be the generation that turns the tide, that ends the era of destruction and introduces an era of restoration? This is the Great Lakes Challenge.
We are tremendously thankful to the generosity of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Their vision and dedication to restoring a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future to our Great Lakes has provided the hope that fuels our organization and our project partners. I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost all of this year’s projects wouldn’t have happened without their support. Their commitment has been a game-changer.
And we absolutely couldn’t be prouder of the work of our partners in the Great Lakes Challenge. In many cases they have been fighting the good fight longer than we have. Their commitment to our shared values inspires us to do more each and everyday so that together we can connect more people to water.
Amazing funders and hardworking partners, have made the Great Lakes Challenge the most revolutionary restoration project on our Great Lakes. I would urge you to visit our new website for the Great Lakes Challenge. Here you can stay up to date on the latest information on this program and let us know what you think our future projects should look like. You can also follow us on Instagram!
We all have the passion, a passion to connect to water. My hope is that you can let the Great Lakes Challenge be the hope to fuel that passion. If you have the will we now have the way. Together we will work for find solutions to restore a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Great Lakes for everyone.