News Local

Pollution problems with Lake Ontario beaches discovered

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

Ontario's environmental commissioner, Gord Miller, said Lake Ontario beaches in this province are more polluted than on the American side of the lake.

In his 2010 annual report, Miller blamed this on a variety of factors including municipal wastewater effluents, agricultural and urban run-off and industrial discharges.

"Our beaches are often closed due to high bacterial levels; fish and other aquatic organisms suffer acute and chronic toxicity from ammonia or residual chlorine; and excessive nutrients produce soupy algal growth, fouling our shorelines," stated part four of Miller's report.

"These and other kinds of chronic habitat degradation are, to a considerable degree, consequences of the pollutants found in municipal wastewater discharges. Harmful effect can often be observed for 10 to 20 kilometres downstream...and some parts of ecosystems may not recover for 20 to 100 kilometres."

Key factors listed in the Miller report include heavy rainfalls that are growing in intensity with climate change and creating volumes that exceed sewage treatment plants and holding tanks and sewers overflowing into neighbouring bodies of water. The growing population, is itself, a significant factor that needs to be addressed, the report also noted.

In the past, sewage overflow has occurred at waste water plants in both Port Hope and Cobourg, but there is brand new infrastructure in the former, and Cobourg Mayor and Northumberland County Warden, Peter Delanty, said many improvements in his own municipality's infrastructure now has the capacity to avoid such overflows unless there are "catastrophic" 100-year storms.

"We've invested a lot of money....that goes above and beyond what the regulations are," said Delanty who is also a longtime member of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Initiative. Its mandate includes improving water quality in the system and includes representatives from communities on these bodies of water.

In Northumberland County, Port Hope, Cobourg and Colborne have updated their sewage plants in the past seven or eight years, Delanty "I think that the County of Northumberland has really stepped up to the plate to address the issue...to not pollute our streams and rivers....to address that (issue) head on."

Concerning beach closing, over the past three or four years there have been fewer beach closures due to high fecal counts at Victoria Park in Cobourg, Delanty continued. Maybe in rural areas north of Cobourg, the agricultural industries' compliance is higher, Delanty said, extrapolating that this is the same situation throughout Northumberland.

"I don't know that for a fact (though)," he admitted.

Overall, the Miller report found that the provincial government hasn't followed through on its own environmental promises and that action doesn't follow legislation.

Other shortfalls chronicled in the report, according to Miller's media release state:

* "The Ministry of the Environment has failed to keep an up-to-date inventory of closed landfills that could be polluting nearby groundwater;

* Ontario's air quality standards are not airtight, allowing the government to exempt whole sectors of industry from tougher provincial rules;

* One billion more trees need to be planted in southern Ontario -far more than the government's target of 50 million trees by 2020 -to conserve biodiversity and respond to the challenges of climate change;

* Legislation has been introduced to protect half the boreal forest in the Far North, but ineffective oversight by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry has allowed mining service companies to set up illegal camps and landing strips; and

* The government made a commitment to protect the dwindling number of caribou in the province. But the Ministry of Natural Resources has not protected their habitat from mining or forestry to prevent their likely disappearance from Ontario."

Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi was unavailable to comment by press time on the report of his government's environmental record.