Humber River Watershed Report Card

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 5.05.34 PMAfter much study and gathering of data, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has released its 2013 report card on each of the rivers in the Toronto watershed. Raymore Park is classified as being in the Lower Humber and understandably, nature along this most urban part of the river is under considerable pressure.

Four categories in each watershed are graded A-F.

Groundwater Quality……. Insufficient data.

Groundwater, especially in the Humber’s upper reaches can be contaminated by nitrates and nitrites from farm animals, septic systems and fertilizers while the more urbanized stretches can contain high chloride levels from winter road salt. TRCA needs to add more monitoring stations before a comprehensive grade can be given.

Surface Water Quality…..C

48 monitoring sites check for only three indicators of surface water quality; phosphorous, E.coli bacteria and Benthic Macroinvertebrates (BMI) (invertebrates that can be seen with the naked eye) The higher the BMI score the better. While the Humber as a whole gets an overall grade of C, as can be imagined, the lower down in the river, the poorer the results. On this basis, Black Creek and the Lower Humber are probably in the F range.

Forest Conditions………D

In the lower Humber, only 7% of the land is covered by trees. Nowhere in the Humber Watershed is the desired minimum of 30% achieved. Trees help with air quality, provide homes for many animals and protect and shade aquatic habitats.

Stormwater Management…..F

This category is directly related to Surface Water Quality and refers to the ability of municipalities to prevent rainwater emptying into the sanitary sewer system. Older municipalities (such as Toronto) operate combined storm and sanitary sewers and when rain falls, the system can overload, dumping raw sewage into the river. To combat this surge of water during rainstorms, municipalities are encouraging homeowners to disconnect their downspouts from storm sewers into rain barrels or onto land where it can be absorbed harmlessly. There are other ways to reduce this load; driveways made from interlocking brick absorb rain whereas sealed driveways (concrete, tarmac) add to the storm sewer load. Flat roofs can be made to absorb water using a membrane, then adding a soil equivalent and plants.

A pair of mallards passing a storm sewer outlet.

A pair of mallards pass in front of a mystery liquid gushing from a storm sewer outlet in Raymore Park.

This particular outlet spews forth its unknown liquid in both dry and wet weather seemingly with no particular reason.

Here’s what I think needs to happen in order to improve these scores and how residents can help.

TRCA needs to:

  • provide more opportunities for staff at all levels to observe, monitor and supervise what is happening in the watershed
  • set up more monitoring stations to detect sources of pollution
  • actively go after polluters and sources of pollution
  • plant more trees
  • acquire land in critical areas
  • educate people on the need to reduce pollution levels in rivers and streams

Municipalities need to:

  • find more efficient ways of using salt so that less ends up in rivers and streams
  • actively go after polluters and sources of pollution
  • plant more trees
  • continue downspout programs
  • encourage green roofs and permeable paving

Homeowners can:

  • avoid washing cars etc. on sealed driveways
  • take unwanted liquids and chemicals to a recycling depot
  • disconnect downspouts from sewers
  • buy low-flush toilets
  • plant trees
  • reduce or eliminate the use of weed killers, salt and pesticides

It’s easy to forget that Toronto’s drinking water comes entirely from Lake Ontario. It just makes sense to ensure that water entering the lake is pristine.

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