The discussions at Environment Defence Canada’s event on improving water quality in Hamilton Harbour, one of the Great Lakes toxic hot spots, signal the potential of individuals to effect powerful change.
“It makes sense for us to go to Hamilton, where there are a lot of local groups doing great work,” said Claire Malcolmson, a spokesperson for the environmental action organization that hosted Make the Great Lakes Great! for about 100 attendees at the Design Annex on Tuesday. “But there is still a lot to be done.”
At the top of the EDC’s list is a push for significant support for a proposed Great Lakes Protection Act that died with Queen’s Park prorogation, said Malcolmson.
Speakers at the event also floated various ways to help boost lake water quality, such as volunteer marsh planting and working with local group PipeWatch to monitor seepage of sewage into storm water flowing into creeks.
Make the Great Lakes Great! was an awareness-raising opportunity for the public, said Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton.
“We’ve got a lot of work still to do, but we’ve got a heck of a lot to be really proud of,” she said of Hamilton’s superstar reputation for stakeholder and community involvement.
“We all have a part to play in being stewards of our local environment.”
The work of the Bay Area Restoration Council, a stakeholder group born of a grassroots movement in the 1970s and ’80s by north-end residents, reflects a long-held desire among Hamiltonians to fix the harbour, the council’s executive director Chris McLaughlin told attendees.
They’ve made significant progress. In 1980, only three per cent of the harbour shoreline was accessible — the rest was either polluted or physically inaccessible — but today, it’s 30 per cent, with amenities such as walking trails and parks, he said.
McLaughlin said it’s “very cool” to look around after marsh plantings and see evidence of the positive change — newly rooted cattails sticking out of the water.
On a much larger scale, two recent moves should dramatically improve the harbour, he said. One is the procurement of local government funding for the $140-million sealing of the toxic Randle Reef — including Hamilton’s $14 million, Burlington’s $2.3 million and Halton Region’s $2 million.
The funding formula is a one-third contribution from each level of government: municipal, provincial and federal. Environment Minister Peter Kent said last week that the federal government is waiting for the province’s share before moving to release its own long-awaited cleanup money for Randle Reef.
The other significant move is city council’s approval of a $132-million upgrade to the Woodward waste water treatment plant that will significantly lower the levels of damaging phosphate released into the harbour.
On the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act, “We’re trying to increase education and awareness about why we need this legislation,” Malcolmson said.
This includes the creation of a multi-ministerial council for stronger integration on Great Lakes actions so that one arm of the government is not polluting while another is trying to fix it, she said.
Municipal Affairs, for example, has allowed too much development around Lake Simcoe, which led to increased phosphates in the lake that boost algae growth and created other problems the environment ministry is now working to rectify, she said.
The council could direct development to where it can have the least impact on water quality, Malcolmson said.
“We’re talking about how climate change will put at risk not only the larger environmental issues but also weather, which can affect how people experience drought, flooding, or dropping lake levels,” said Gail Krantzberg, a McMaster University professor and director of the university’s Centre for Engineering and Public Policy.
She said homeowners can also boost water quality by incorporating simple measures such as using porous interlocking stones for driveways rather than paving them. This directs rainwater into the ground instead of storm sewers.
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