A new report about Toronto water quality has been released. You have an important chance to comment on the city’s progress when it comes to restoring water quality. Here’s our summary of the issue and information about how you can share your views with the government. (*Spoiler alert*: this is one of the most important decisions about Toronto waters that has been made in a long time.)
The Toronto & Region Remedial Action Plan has released a report entitled BUI Status Re-designation Report: Degradation of Aesthetics. The report recommends that the Degradation of Aesthetics Beneficial Use Impairment be re-designated from Impaired to Not Impaired.
What does it mean?
Toronto & Region is one of 43 locations around the Great Lakes designated as an Area of Concern. An Area of Concern is a region that has experienced high levels of environmental harm.
Toronto was first designated an Area of Concern in 1986 because of water quality problems from urban development, sewage, spills, and chemical discharge.
Since then, the team responsible for the Toronto & Region Remedial Action Plan (Toronto RAP) has made attempts to address each individual issue that makes Toronto an Area of Concern. There are 14 issues. Each one is a known as Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs).
A “beneficial use” is something good that can be done with or on the water, such as swimming or fishing. An “impairment” means that there is a barrier to that use, such as sewage pollution at a beach or mercury contamination in a fish. Each of the 14 uses is given a rating of “Not Impaired,” “Impaired,” or “Requires Further Assessment.” Toronto has five remaining “Impaired” Beneficial Uses. One of which is known as “Aesthetics.” It refers to how our water looks and smells.
The Toronto RAP report calls for the re-designation of the Aesthetic BUI from “Impaired” to “Not Impaired.” The report argues that aesthetic problems with Toronto’s water have been solved because:
“Waters are free of any substance that produces a persistent objectionable deposit, unnatural colour or turbidity, or unnatural odour (for instance, oil slick or surface scum).”
The report goes over results from observations” taken by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority during 2012, 2013, and 2015. It says that “80% of observations were indicative of water that was clear, colourless, and odourless, with no excess debris present at the sampling site.”
What does it matter?
Beneficial Use Impairments guide cleanup plans for Areas of Concern. If the RAP report is accepted, then the government’s official position will be that Toronto’s aesthetic water problems have been solved.
The most extreme consequence could be that no further plans would be developed to address aesthetic problems (including sewage debris, plastics pollution, and chronic beach debris). It could also mean that Toronto cannot access provincial and federal funds to address aesthetic water quality problems.
That’s why Waterkeeper says this decision is so important: if we declare “problem solved” now, we may reduce the number of people, programs, and dollars available to make further progress. The question is, are we ready? Is this the right time? Is the Toronto waterfront’s aesthetics problem really solved?
Waterkeeper is studying the report. We will be writing a comment, which we will post to our website.
In the meantime ...
What can you do?
Toronto RAP has opened this report for public consultation. Comments on the report can be submitted to Meg St John (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Toronto RAP team has agreed to extend the period for public comment from its original date of September 18 to its new official deadline: September 27, 2017. We asked for this extension to accommodate for the September 20 Lake Ontario Evenings event where more information about Toronto water quality will be shared with the public.
Click here to read the report.