One week ago, Waterkeeper Mark Mattson spent the day with a group of journalists who were touring Lake Ontario. In this blog post, Mark recounts his day with the fifteen fellows from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources.
The writers came to Toronto with a singular purpose: observe, listen and imagine better ways to tell environmental stories about Lake Ontario.
Michael D'Andrea, a senior water infrastructure official from the City of Toronto, showed off some of the city's major water projects. I have been on these tours in the past and I have read about the projects before. This year, though, the tour really resonated with me. It was a combination of the amazing journalists, the good discussions, the personal passion of the City of Toronto employees I met, and the realization that some good projects have moved from the drawing boards to real life.
You can visit these projects yourself:
The Earl Bales Park stormwater project. An ingenius idea to use golf courses as space for storing stormwater that otherwise would be discharging directly into the Toronto rivers. It allows sediment to precipitate out of polluted water before being re-used for irrigation. As an added bonus, the stormwater project is a beautiful addition to the third hole at the Don Valley golf course.
The wetlands projects built along the Gardiner Expressway protects the Humber River and Sunnyside beach. The ponds are located on vacant highway property and improve the look of the area. They store and filter huge amounts of polluted water in an effort to restore swimmable water to Sunnyside Beach.
There is a huge underground storage tunnel at the base of Strachan Avenue that holds up to eighty million litres of stormwater. This facility disinfects stormwater in the tank, or re-routes contaminated stormwater and sewage to sewage treatment plant before discharging into Lake. The tunnel operates only during swimming season.
Toronto is a long way from being able to declare its waterfront "swimmable". Two of the city's eleven official beaches were posted as unsafe more days than they were open in 2010. Only two others were open at least 95% of the summer, which is Ontario's definition of a clean beach.
This tour, though, left me feeling more optimistic about the future of water quality in Toronto than I have felt in years. Journalists are getting the real stories and asking good questions. The City of Toronto gave frank and honest answers.
Talks by one of Canada's foremost water experts Robert Sandford and Ministry of Environment representative Carolyn O'Neill inspired the group to think about what should be done to ensure that Toronto's corner of Lake Ontario becomes vibrant and healthy. The utility is making progress. Individuals are disconnecting rain spouts, landscaping green lawns, using low flow toilets and conserving water. The demand and passion for clean water and a safe Lake Ontario has not felt this strong in years.
So what is holding up our dream of a swimmable Lake Ontario? There are still areas where beach front and rivers are polluted with storm water and sewage. It is going to take a team approach to fix the problem: politicians, enforcement officials, utility operators and the community all need to do their part.