Sewage pollution shut down every Toronto beach last summer, a new Waterkeeper report reveals. The findings were published just days before city staff rejected increased funding for water and wastewater treatment.
Of the city's fourteen beaches, only one - Clark/Cherry Beach - met provincial water quality standards. Toronto also received the dubious distinction of having the dirtiest pipe in all of the regions studied.
"The mayor was elected on a platform of revitalizing Toronto's waterfront. City staff should be going out of their way to help him fulfil this mandate," says Waterkeeper & President Mark Mattson.
Waterkeeper suggests five key targets for bringing the city's system into compliance with provincial water quality standards:
Revisit the abandoned treatment centre in Warden Woods. The pipe at this site discharges water more polluted than any other pipe sampled: 2,000 times higher than what is considered safe for human and aquatic life.
Identify and correct the true problems at Rouge and Bluffer's Beaches. These were the city's two filthiest beaches, closed 89% and 85% of the summer.
Invest in restoration and fish habitat projects in areas ravaged by stormwater.
Redraft the Wet Weather Flow Management Master Plan to shut down CSOs on the Humber River instead of building a berm at its mouth to funnel contaminants into Lake Ontario.
Start monitoring sewer outfalls inside the Toronto Harbour. Chronic overflows impact boaters and pervasive odours discourage tourists.
"The laws are on the side of our waterfront. City Council is on the side of our waterfront. Public support is greater than it has ever been. There are no more excuses for beach closures," says Krystyn Tully, executive director of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
The provincial study
Nearly a decade after the introduction of F-5-5 (a provincial standard designed to clean up beaches and stop sewage overflows), Lake Ontario Waterkeeper observed that many of the lake's beaches remain closed and sewers still empty into our rivers. This anecdotal evidence inspired a dozen staff and volunteers to take water samples, track beach closures, and review government monitoring programs.
We assessed bacteria pollution and beach closures near five urban waterways in Ontario: Kingston's Cataraqui River, Toronto's Don River, Hamilton's Red Hill Creek, St. Catharines' Twelve Mile Creek, and Sarnia's St. Clair River. Our key findings:
65% of all samples included in study did not meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
79% of all samples taken by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper did not meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
Dry weather overflows still occur in 100% of the regions studied.
Only 9 of 32 CSO-impacted beaches met provincial safety standards for bathing beaches this summer.
The most contaminated discharge was found in Toronto's Warden Woods, where E. coli levels were 2,000 times higher than provincial water quality objectives.
The most contaminated surface water was found downstream of the Red Hill Cliff outfall in Hamilton, 53 times higher than provincial water quality objectives.
Contamination at just one beach in Sarnia accounts for 100% of the region's beach closings.