Thursday marks the official start of the 2006 swimming season. Temperatures are already soaring and Environment Canada is predicting a hotter than usual summer for most of the country. As the smog days pile up and schools let out, many people in southern Ontario will be looking for a free, convenient way to cool off ... and many urban-dwellers are about to be disappointed.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper will release a report this week that shows Ontario's municipalities are making little headway in the push to reopen our urban beaches, despite the efforts of numerous non-profit organizations and frequent media attention in recent summers. Provincial policy says that urban beaches are supposed to be open at least 95% of the summer, with the assumption that beaches not affected by old combined sewer systems will be open every single day. After three years of comprehensive beach monitoring, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper notes that not one municipality on Lake Ontario is meeting this standard.
Provincial rules also say that municipalities should complete beach surveys prior to the start of each swimming season to identify potential sources of pollution so they can be eliminated. A series of information requests proves that not one municipality on Lake Ontario has ever completed these surveys.
Our research drew our attention to Toronto's Bluffer's Park Beach, which was closed 93% of the 2005 season. These results continue a legacy of highly frequent closings at this particular beach. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper decided to study Bluffer's Beach to prove that the Ministry of Health Survey can be a powerful tool for winning back our beaches.
Despite the high frequency of its closings, Bluffer's Park Beach is one of the most favoured beaches in the GTA. It is an extremely popular destination for local residents as it is the sole beach servicing most of Scarborough. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper launched an independent investigation to determine why Bluffer's Beach was so frequently closed. This included a sampling program of direct discharges into Lake Ontario (both streams and storm sewers), the sampling of surface waters in the park itself and the sampling of the swimming area at the beach on eight different occasions throughout the 2005 season. With the help of scientist David Dillenbeck, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper produced a report.
- The City of Toronto has created a containment area at the base of the bluffs adjacent to the northerly side of the Bluffer's Park Access Road. This containment area collects several sources of water, including precipitation that has fallen on the parklands as well as stormwater from the streets, driveways and parking lots of the residential areas.
- This containment area discharges via a stream across Bluffer's Park Beach directly into Lake Ontario.
- E-coli levels in the discharge stream are extremely high The City of Toronto should eliminate this E-coli, treat the E-coli or divert it away from the park in order to reduce the number of beach closings.
We submitted our findings to the City of Toronto's Works Committee and requested meeting to discuss our report. The committee received our report but has thus far declined to meet with us. Similarly, in 2005, the Ontario government began investigating St. Catharines, Hamilton, Toronto, and other cities to see why they have chronic beach pollution problems. The results of the investigation were supposed to be made public in January, but have never been released.
It's debatable if this chronic beach pollution is illegal, but it is clear that cities and their citizens are suffering real losses. Every person in Ontario should have equal access to our clean water, but they don't. The truth is, most people do not have a cottage "up north" where they can escape our increasingly hot and smoggy summer weather. And even wild areas of the Great Lakes are seeing beach postings for the first time, as tolerance of municipal pollution spreads to other regions.
This summer, Waterkeeper is embarking on its biggest beaches monitoring program ever. You can track monthly results online (waterkeeper.ca/beaches) or follow Waterkeeper.ca Weekly for updates. We need to believe that, if followed, the provincial policies will win back our beaches. We need to believe that this summer will be the summer someone finally declares beach postings unacceptable. Otherwise, each new beach posting on Lake Ontario is a sign of failure, making it harder and harder for people to believe this sleeping beauty can be revived.
More information: Lessons from Bluffer's Park