Paddle – Drink – Protect

I confess – I love being in the outdoors.  Even more, I love being in the outdoors, on water.

I get energy when I am experiencing the joy of being out in our environment. Though a novice paddler, there’s an added serenity and peace to being on the water that I find revitalizing.

I can’t imagine living where that experience was difficult (or impossible to have); where the rivers and lakes are too polluted to witness that serenity; where the rivers and lakes (and groundwater) are too contaminated to eat from their bounty or drink their necessary waters.

And there are signs that our waters are not all great.  Though Canada Water Week has sought to celebrate our connection to water, sometimes that celebration is about drawing attention to our need to better protect it.

White Water Black Gold has been screened across the country as part of Canada Water Week. It draws attention to the effects of Climate Change on a drop of water as it travels from the Glaciers in the Rockies to Lake Athabasca.  On its way this drop of water encounters the choking effects that the tar sands is having on water and challenges the viewer to become more aware of the costs that our addiction to oil is having.

We have also seen many events in Manitoba that are focused on Lake Winnipeg and the ongoing concerns that blue-green algae blooms have on the health of this important Canadian lake. Lake Winnipeg receives an outpouring of several major river basins: the red river flows north from the US midwest; the north and south Saskatchewan river basins flow east both starting in the Rocky Mountains that border Alberta and British Columbia.  The result of rapid urban development across the Lake Winnipeg waterbasin, along with intensive livestock and agricultural operations has resulted in significant elevated phosphorus levels coalescing in the lake.

Both the Athabasca River and Lake Winnipeg are reminders of what happens when we fail to protect our water.  At Paddle – Drink – Protect in Barrie I learnt how Lake Simcoe communities and stakeholders are working to avoid the same fate as Lake Winnipeg.

In a proactive move the region passed a Lake Simcoe Protection Act requiring surrounding municipalities to meet targets for phosphorous reduction.

Despite the attention often focused on agricultural regions, the farms of the watersheds Holland Marsh are not the largest phosphorus contributors of the lake (though they too must rise to the challenges of reducing their levels of toxins and elements). The regions municipalities are contributing 31% of phosphorous, combined this represents the largest source. Barrie, has been one of the fastest growing municipalities in Ontario. This could be concerning.  But again, Barrie is a municipal leader in reducing their phosphorus contributions to the lake.  The challenge is smaller municipalities that don’t have the infrastructure funding to upgrade treatment services and the large number of cottage communities whereby old septic systems can leach into the lake.

Although Lake Simcoe is far from replicating the challenges facing Lake Winnipeg.  Nor does the region have one of the worlds largest oil deposits upstream but we can learn from our neighbours.  Proactive responses prevent pollution problems – the precautionary approach – it’s something we all need to strive a little harder to ensure.

Keeping clean waters clean is always our best option!

3 Responses to “Paddle – Drink – Protect”

  1. Vicki Burns March 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    I’m very interested in learning more of the specifics of the phosphorus reduction targets in the Lake Simcoe Act. Do you have any specific numbers? It could be very useful in pushing for similar actions about the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

    • Lindsay Telfer March 24, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Hi Vicki,
      The targets are outlined in the provinces Phosphorus Reduction Strategy for Lake Simcoe. You can see the strategy at on the MOE website.

      Take from the purpose of the strategy:
      “The key objective of the proposed Phosphorus Reduction Strategy is to reduce phosphorous loadings to where we will achieve a dissolved oxygen level in Lake Simcoe of 7 milligrams per litre (mg/L), a level that current scientific research indicates will support Lake Simcoe’s long-term ecological health. Achieving this objective requires reducing total phosphorus loading in the watershed to 44 tonnes per year (T/yr), from the current total annual loading of 72 T/yr—which means annual reductions of about 40 percent. Achieving this aggressive goal will be challenging and will take several decades. In addition, the need to make investments in new technology and infrastructure will require significant funds. New developments that are already approved for the Lake Simcoe area will likely push annual phosphorus loading higher over the next several years. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan acknowledges this, and states that the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy will be designed to accommodate the implementation of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, where relevant.

      So, the plan begins to lay out a strategy for addressing the threat of elevated phosphorus in the lake by setting some hard targets for reductions. It is a bit soft on how they are actually going to meet the reductions. There is also a section on exploring a water quality trading market as a financial tool to achieve success for the strategy. I’ll have to explore this concept of market mechanisms in another blog as there is much to talk about there.

      Hope this was helpful?

  2. Carol Maas March 24, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Great post Lindsay. My parents have a cottage on Lake Couchiching, not so far away. Hopefully the Act will be a long-term driver for more sustainable decentralized solutions that look beyond traditional wastewater treatment practices.

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