Sunday, September 30, 2007


Since 2002 a Halton Region advisory committee has been quietly working on the nuisance algae problem.

I’m a member that committee - the Lake Ontario Shoreline Algae Action Advisory Committee (LOSAAC. The group is putting the finishing touches to a report going to Council.

This “nuisance” problem is primarily an odour. A stink this summer lasted 8 or 9 weeks - longer than in recent memory. Caused by an aquatic plant called Cladaphora the smell won’t kill us – but we should be concerned.

I am not a Scientist but.....

The science to the smell is this:

· Wastewater treatment and other human activities put phosphorous into the lake.

· An invasive species, zebra mussels, clean the water, ingest large quantities of phosphorous, and then poop it out on the lake bottom where it sits ready to help the algae grow.

· Population growth means we are putting more phosphorus into the lake. Conservation Halton, using actual flow measurements and water sampling, has calculated that we dump 13,611 kilograms of phosphorus into the lake each year. A scientific team working with LOSAAC says when we are built out we’ll be loading 23,192 more kilograms into the lake each year making it a more attractive place for cladaphora growth and smellier too.

Invasive species, phosphorous, hardening of the shoreline and population growth all contribute to the algae problem but there is a bigger picture.

Beware of Invasive Species

In 2005 several scientists put out a paper called Prescription for Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection and Restoration. They claim that we are at a ”tipping point of irreversible changes.” Areas of the lakes are experiencing ecosystem breakdown. Stresses have overwhelmed natural processes “that normally stabilize and buffer the system from permanent change.”

There is some improvement (e.g. contaminant trends going down, the return of bald eagles and cormorants) but the overall trend is disturbing.

“The near-shore aquatic system has lost its ability to adapt to changes, loss of shoreline, the destruction of wetlands, and urban and agricultural run off. These trends are accelerating.”

In one of several workshops organized by the province’s Environmental Commissioner and Pollution Probe held about a year ago one participant noted:

“The problem isn’t invasive aquatic species, toxics, climate change, or any
other of the many issues we face. The Problem is us. Our lifestyle has to adapt to the environment. Until we humble ourselves, and understand that we are the invasive species, we won’t get it.”
(A Public Dialogue on the Future of the Great Lakes.)

I’ll return to algae and the Great Lakes in future postings.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cosmetic Pesticide Use

A special meeting of the Community Development Committee (CDC) of Burlington Council will be held this Tuesday.

The lone agenda item will be a look at restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides.

Procedural tomfoolery at last week’s CDC saw staff sent away to check on whether Council has already dealt with the matter this year (they hadn’t) and to revise their report.

The new report takes out the recommendation that actually authorizes staff to proceed with developing a by-law. (Certainly wouldn’t want staff dashing off headlong and doing something that two-dozen municipalities in Ontario have already done.) A final Council approved recommendation could change this.

An Old Issue But Some New Views

Burlington Council has dealt with this one before. In fact, four of the current group of seven approved some outreach and an awareness campaign in 2002. Pressure from the professional lawn spraying lobby and lack of support from the head Halton health honcho, Dr. Bob Nosal, has meant nothing has happened since then.

However, the good doctor has changed his mind. He writes:

“…Given the limitations of current provincial and federal regulations, the Medical Officer of Health supports initiatives and measures taken by municipalities to reduce the use of pesticides for lawn care including by-laws that restrict pesticide use on private property.”

Watch what you drink

Nineteen year Council veteran, John Taylor, believes “there is no proven causal relationship between pesticides and disease when pesticides are properly used.”

According to Taylor, council’s only known chemist, it is “just a case of dosage and exposure.” Taylor notes that there are even two documented cases of drinking excessive amounts of pure water leading to death. I doubt that Taylor will be swayed by arguments from the delegations this week.

Councillor Rick Craven might though. His vote to support moving to a by-law will leave Cam Jackson to break a three-three deadlock.

Here’s hoping that the Mayor sees his way to supporting a by-law without the need for excessive and costly consultation.

With our increased awareness of the damage we are doing to our environment this really shouldn’t be this difficult.