When you live in the Great Lakes region, water shapes your daily life. Your health, your home and your job are a product of the lakes. Swimmable, drinkable, fishable water is critical, but it’s threatened. The Swim Drink Fish movement is changing that.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper works to restore people’s connection to the Great Lakes. We know from experience that when people feel a connection to their waterbody they are inspired to protect it. That’s exactly what has been happening throughout our community. As part of that community, your hard work is paying off. This movement will help take us from an era of destruction to an era of restoration in the Great Lakes.
Here is what your Great Lakes Community will talk about in 2018:
1. Sewage discharges and real-time monitoring
You should think about water quality like the weather - it changes daily.
In 2017, Waterkeeper investigators observed too many untreated sewage discharges. During combined sewer outflows, municipalities dumped sewage into our drinking water sources, recreational playgrounds and wildlife habitats.
The International Joint Commission’s Triennial Assessment of Progress confirmed inadequately or untreated sewage in the Great Lakes is one of its Top 25 Topics of Public Concern.
The question should not be, ‘Can I swim in the Great Lakes?’ It should be, ‘Where and when can I swim in the Great Lakes?’
The City of Kingston leads Canada in real-time sewage outflow monitoring. Data from its online system informs people about the time and location of water-quality alerts, and when they’ve ended. This helps show not only when the water is unsafe but that the majority of time the water is safe. This invites residents into the cool clear waters of Lake Ontario while it answers the IJC report’s call for sewer outflow monitoring.
As communities wake to the economic and cultural value of our watersheds, decisions will increasingly reflect their value. Swim Guide, a Swim Drink Fish initiative, provides users with that information in its beach information app but it also empowers local organizations with accessible platforms to post the results of their own citizen science initiatives. This is truly the future of recreational water quality monitoring.
2. Restoring recreational water quality
In 2017, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation invested $1-million to restore the Great Lakes. They created the Great Lakes Challenge, a comprehensive restoration program working to repair and protect the most vulnerable areas on the Great Lakes.
Swim Drink Fish was honoured to be the organization chosen to administer these programs and bring our experience connecting people to water.
Though only halfway through its inaugural year, the Challenge has created excitement throughout the Great Lakes basin. We set out to restore, engage, and inspire communities to create a better future for the lakes - and the results so far have been profound.
In Second Creek, a tributary to the Credit River we are restoring important habitat for brook trout and Atlantic salmon by reconnecting nearly 10 km of original stream to the River. In Kingston, we are restoring fish habitat, access, and clean water with the redevelopment of Breakwater Park. And finally, we are preserving the last remaining Redside Dace population in the Greater Toronto Area by repairing damaged streams and providing stewardship training to tens of thousands of Ontarians.
The Challenge funds restoration and stewardship projects that inspire Ontarians to dream big. There has always been a will to restore the Great Lakes but now the Challenge signifies the way. Since last spring, we have been overwhelmed by the response from communities around the Great Lakes eager to participate in this revolutionary program.
Just last week, Ontario announced Celebration Common at Ontario Place. This green space will offer beach access on the east island of Ontario Place. What’s special about a new Lake Ontario beach? The water is deep, clean and close to an urban centre. This is something we have called for all the way throughout their redevelopment process. More importantly, this is something that Kingston will already achieve this summer in Breakwater Park’s Gord Edgar Downie Pier thanks to the vision and investments of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.
The era of restoration is about swimmable, drinkable, fishable Great Lakes for everyone.
3. Access to the Great Lakes
Consider your fondest memory that took place outdoors. Were you at a beach? On a trail? In a park? Now consider how long ago this was.
Early 2018 will see the launch of an exciting new initiative - Great Lakes Guide. Indigenous and non-profit members of the Great Lakes Guardians Council developed the concept, and with the cooperation of seed funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Swim Drink Fish is creating a new online platform to connect people to the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Guide’s purpose is to grow the community of people who care about the lakes. It will recognize and honour Indigenous perspectives; amplify existing restoration work, science, and knowledge; and inspire action to protect the lakes.
The platform will teach people where their water comes from, and what birds and fish live near them. It will promote Indigenous languages, history and perspectives. The Guide will show how water connects different communities from the north to the south, from urban to rural, and from coastal to river communities.
We invite you to join our Great Lakes Guide community and unleash your inner explorer by making it easier for you (and your friends) to find parks, beaches, trails, and other public spaces in the region.
You heard it here first. Great Lakes Guide launches Spring 2018!
4. Proposed changes to the environmental legislation
On February 8, Canada’s federal government announced changes to its environmental legislation. The proposed changes include overhauling the current Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012; Navigation Protection Act; Fisheries Act; and National Energy Board.
All four are pertinent to the Swim Drink Fish movement, but it’s hard to imagine any great solution through legislation alone. These proposed changes have opened the public debate and it’s up to you to be an active participant.
To start, consider reading the proposed changes.
Start here: Better rules to protect Canada’s environment and grow the economy