MAYDAY Rally galvanizes support for cleaner Lake Ontario shorelines

Meirav Even-Har, Sierra Club Ontario – meirav.evenhar@gmail.com

In over a decade of work with businesses and grassroots environmental organizations like Sierra Club Ontario, I cannot recall such an obvious and non- contentious call to action as the one put forth by organizers of the MAYDAY Rally.

Let me clarify. Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP), the second largest sewage plant in Ontario, is already a nuisance to the nearby shorelines of Ajax and Pickering. The proposed expansion of the plant to accommodate new residents in York Region should have a commitment to invest in better technology. If the current deterioration of shorelines due to the 340,000,000 litre-per-day discharge is not enough of an alarm bell, surely an expansion of operations is a timely opportunity to invest in a more sustainable solution.

The costs of not investing in a better solution
All three “pillars” of regional vitality and sustainability are affected in Durham Region: people, profit and planet. Algal growth is not only unsightly and foul-smelling, it is toxic. When shorelines are no longer safe to be enjoyed by residents and their pets due to potential toxicity, there is clearly a problem.

Shorelines are also valued real estate in any city or town – whether for community or private homes. The economic loss from the inability to enjoy Lake Ontario lakefront here has been measured. Let me ruin the surprise – it is in the millions of dollars.

Finally, the ecological damage caused by elevated amounts of phosphorous in the WPCP discharge is significant and affects all that rely on the lake. Environment Canada’s website notes that “Once in the lake, phosphorus and nutrients move throughout the system via the food web. The food web includes plants, animals and people as well as the habitats that support them.”1

Over-abundance of nutrients near the shore can “choke” the waters creating a lack of oxygen. This is not a new issue in the Great Lakes and is especially a concern for Lake Ontario. Current volumes of treated sewage released at the WPCP are already causing degradation. Doubling this amount will cause unprecedented damage to the area where Ontarians live, swim, drink, and fish.

Demanding a sensible solution
You don’t need to be an environmental scientist to understand that polluting the source of our drinking water is a bad idea. Lake Ontario’s environmental stressors do not begin or end with the Duffin Creek WPCP, but the Ajax waterfront and neighbouring communities are certainly affected by it. When our water source is “sick” so are we.

Sustainable growth is not just about where we build, but also how we do it. Growth in Ontario need not come at the price of a community’s environmental and economic vitality. Investment in 21st century technology can ensure that what we flush down the toilet doesn’t end up in our drinking and recreational waters. This is what every Ontarian deserves.

1 Environment Canada: Phosphorus and Excess Algal Growth, http://www.ec.gc.ca/grandslacs-greatlakes/default.asp?lang=En&n=6201FD24-1