Climate Change and
The safeguards designed to prevent waterway pollution in most Georgian Bay area cities and towns were built into storm-water and sewage infrastructure decades ago, and are not equipped to deal with the more extreme conditions brought on by climate change.
Severe weather is quickly becoming the new normal, and with increased rain, storms, and changing lake-levels, comes the need to re-evaluate our systems, and reconsider our relationship with water.
Waste and Stormwater Overflows
Wastewater and stormwater infrastructure designed and built 30 to 100 or more years ago are not equipped to handle the contemporary issues we face as a result of climate change. Since 1900, precipitation has increased by 11%, with a 37% increase in extreme precipitation events since 1958.
The Midland Mirror published the article, “Excessive rain causing Midland to dump raw sewage into Georgian Bay” in the summer of 2017, mentioning that over 1.3 million litres of raw sewage has ended up in Georgian Bay from the Town of Midland in the past four years, and the Town of Midland is hardly alone - in fact, the Great Lakes Commission noted at the end of September, 2017, that US Great Lakes states would need $271 billion to improve public water systems. As for Ontario, GBF has written this letter in support for Bill 141, which aims to make public all sewage overflows. While it has not been tabled by the current legislature, we feel public disclosure is important for residents of Ontario if they are to truly understand the scale of this issue and the work needed to confront it.
For more information, see our newsletter article, " Water Quality Issue: Sewage Overflows Into Georgian Bay" by Sara Carter, a former member of our Communications Committee team.
Toxic Algae Blooms
Another impact on water quality from climate change is increasing risk of toxic algae blooms. While some algae blooms are naturally safe and have been observed historically in most bodies of water, the Great Lakes are recently experiencing more frequent outbreaks, some of which are toxic. In the summer of 2014, for example, 500,000 people in the city of Toledo were left without drinking water because of microcystin, a neurotoxin sometimes produced by blooms of freshwater algae, which was found in Lake Erie. The cause of this increase in toxic blooms is due to severe rainfalls which produce mass amounts of untreated run-off into the lakes, containing nutrients like phosphorus from fertilizers, and pollution from hardened cityscapes, which accelerates the growth of algae blooms.
Wildlife and Species at Risk
Wetlands and near-shore waters provide essential habitat for a wide range of species all over the globe. Georgian Bay in particular is home to the highest concentration of reptiles and amphibians in Canada, making this ecosystem unique among Canada's various waterways. A healthy and natural cycle of temperature and water-level fluctuation is necessary in order to maintain a thriving habitat for an aquatic ecosystem, including many of Georgian Bay's keystone species, but since the 1970s, surface-water temperature in Georgian Bay has gone by approximately 1°C per decade. This increase in temperature disrupts the balance of life for most native aquatic creatures, and can improve the living conditions for invasive species (read more in our ecosystems page.) The rise in temperature also contributes to a rise in precipitation, and as a result, a greater range of fluctuation in lake levels, further disrupting the health, behaviour, and function of many Georgian Bay animals.
To further exacerbate these issues, the reduction in water quality from stormwater run-offs and sewer overflows degrades the water quality for the aquatic creatures that live in those shallow waters. See this article and video from Ecowatch; which shows a salmon struggling for life in a polluted stormwater run-off. These impacts combined with increasing development on and near the waterfront effectively disable the shore's natural abilities to withstand severe weather events. Wetlands help provide a natural buffer between the water and the land, to reduce flooding and erosion, while naturally filtering water by absorbing excessive nutrients that can sometimes become pollutants. For example, wetlands, especially freshwater wetlands work to absorb increasing carbon in the atmosphere, keeping those levels in a healthy balance.
Protecting wetlands from invasive species and excessive human development, while simultaneously working to mitigate the adverse impacts to wetlands from climate change and restoring the damage already done is a crucial part of our work at Georgian Bay Forever. Please visit our Phragmites page for more information on our project designed to increase shoreline resiliency and restore wetlands in Georgian Bay.
While the state of the world these days may seem to be at its bleakest, we know that there are real-world solutions to some of the most pressing matters regarding the health of the natural world. These solutions aren't always quick and easy, but the worst thing that any individual can do in the face of the climate crisis is to sit back and do nothing. Every person's actions impact the environment, and if we focus our efforts, both individually and collectively, we can help to manage and even reverse some of the damage done to our world.
Nature may be in peril, but it's also resilient. In the 1990s, the world became aware of the major threat posed by a deteriorating ozone layer - scientists, government, industry, and individuals worked together, and since then acid rain has decreased significantly.
Here are a few things you can do to mitigate the effects of climate change:
a) Support climate resilience solutions at the government level, and through donations to organizations that work on changing and adapting infrastructure in Georgian Bay and other places you care about. By donating to Georgian Bay Forever, you are supporting research, planning, and programming for adaptively managing extreme water levels.
b) Make your properties more climate resilient, and decrease your contribution to global warming. See this 16-minute video from GBF on how to adapt your property for change by clicking here.
Here are some more examples of how to adapt your property and reduce your footprint:
Use native plants on your land and garden, and don't plant or use invasive plants in your garden or home
Naturalize shorelines on your property instead of planting green grass or installing structures right down to the water
Don’t throw “flushable” baby wipes down the toilet – they absorb fats and block sewage pipes and cause raw sewage overflows (more info here)
Drive cars that are electric or a hybrid if budget permits
Encourage your local municipality to move away excessive use of impermeable concrete and create more permeable surfaces and retention infrastructure
Work to remove one-time use/ throw away items (especially plastics) from your lifestyle
Reconsider materialism in general. We're not suggesting you throw away all your belongings, or stop contributing to a healthy economy, but the reality is that excessive material consumption hurts the environment. Little things like keeping clothes for years and buying local when possible helps to curb excessive waste production.
c) Volunteer with organizations that help the environment. Lots of non-profits, including ours, count on the efforts of environmentally conscious people to volunteer even a little time each year towards helping out. Whether you volunteer long-term, or just come out for a day to cut Phragmites or clean up a beach, every little bit does help! Getting children involved in volunteering is also incredibly helpful for both the kids sense of purpose and for instilling a sense of environmental accountability in future generations.