Partners and Municipalities in
Eastern Georgian Bay
Working with municipalities is essential for creating a cohesive and standardized process for water-quality management throughout Georgian Bay, allowing for increased data integrity and effective communication throughout the various regions.
Building on our water quality monitoring work with the Township of Georgian Bay, GBF is continuing its two-year partnership project with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and other key partners to harmonize water-testing protocols across the Bay.
This work will help us to provide township and cottage association volunteers with standardized tools to track water-quality data in a similar and comparative manner to better inform water quality research and government decision-making. These tools will replace the more than 15 different water quality-monitoring programs currently in use on the eastern side of the Bay.
Problems Addressed by Standardized Protocols
Here are two examples of water quality issues and the potential inefficiencies in non-standardized testing:
Example 1: Nutrient overload (eg. phosphorus) is a concern because it could potentially lead to non-drinkable and non-swimmable waters.
Potential Testing Inefficiencies:
There could be non-productive testing going on in areas that aren’t worth testing because the waters have little stressors. For example, taking samples from open water would likely not be useful; a more reliable method would be to sample the less diluted water near shore where the water is more impacted by human development.
Duplication of effort. There could be multiple organizations testing for the same thing in the same area, as has happened in the past with the Georgian Bay Township. Prior to establishing protocols, these organizations were testing water in the North Bay of Honey Harbour: District of Muskoka, Severn Sound Environmental Association, Georgian Bay Forever, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (OMOE). Now each organization has a specific role.
The consortium of scientific partners working on this issue in eastern Georgian Bay have agreed that phosphorus can be measured by volunteers (citizen scientists) through the Lake Partner Program. However, analyzing those results and being able to determine if there are concerns in any given area is best done by experts for the following reasons:
High levels of phosphorus are linked to the development of nuisance algae and/or algal blooms, which can be toxic for animals and humans, render areas unusable for recreational purposes like swimming, and block off sunlight necessary for the proper growth of other aquatic plant life.
Low levels of phosphorus are being investigated to see if there is a link to invasive species like quagga mussels, which may be absorbing too many nutrients and altering the natural ecosystem's food web.
Acceptable phosphorus concentrations will vary depending on water depth and flow, and tend to be higher near shore. Georgian Bay levels of phosphorus are quite low, but within acceptable limits. However, changing conditions require monitoring. The raw data needs proper evaluation and interpretation by experts.
GBF, The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve and the other partners evaluate the tested regions regularly and develop a scorecard for participating regions in the Bay.
Example 2: Testing for harmful bacteria.
Bacteria testing done in inland lakes needs a systematic approach and qualified testers, however, many independent organizations and volunteers have done this testing in the past, and may be continuing to do so. According to a Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. (Hutchinson) report that GBF supported, this kind of monitoring is ineffective because single samples taken from one point at one time can be misleading.
Citizen volunteers and organizations are encouraged to concentrate efforts on phosphorus measurements and monitoring through the Lake Partner Program, and turn to scientific organizations to monitor bacteria over time if needed. Here's why:
Human pathogens in fecal contamination (sewage) can have serious health risks, but some past protocols might yield false positives, resulting in decisions to either restrict people from swimming in non-contaminated waters, or vice versa, all based on the timing of when samples were taken. In effect, old sampling techniques and one-off sampling are not reliable methods of identifying whether the source of a contamination is human, animal, or part of the normal ecosystem.
Bacterial microbial source-tracking, first used by GBF with the Georgian Bay Township is an efficient tracking mechanism tool. It can identify the source of bacteria and therefore aid in management action which can differ depending on the source. For instance, if the contamination source is from geese, the situation may be resolved through shoreline rehabilitation and less grass, whereas if the source was human, then new septic policy and actions might be required.
Click here to read the DNA-based microbial source tracking report GBF organized for the Township of Georgian Bay, indicating that the Township was within safe limits and excellent for recreational purposes.
The Desired Outcome
The standardized water testing protocol that evolved with GBF will allow partners to compare findings with other coastal monitoring programs through the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s Lake Partner Program. It will help better inform water quality research and government decision-making and improve scientific comparisons between regions. The recommendations are outlined in the final report Enclosed Bays an Inland Lakes Phosphorus Monitoring Guideline, coordinated by the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (GBBR) and Environment Canada.
The results to date of this work on total phosphorus monitoring are highlighted in the State of the Bay report for Eastern and Northern Georgian Bay, to which GBF contributes as a steering team member. See the GBBR's 2018 State of the Bay publication.