Water Quality Tools
Georgian Bay Forever continuously looks for innovative opportunities to use new and emerging scientific methods and demonstrate how they could benefit society in the future. Here are two examples of water-quality tools Georgian Bay has pioneered for use in various municipalities.
To understand contemporary water quality problems, we must first understand the water's natural history. Georgian Bay Forever has supported paleolimnologic studies in the North and South Bays of the Honey Harbour area.
What is paleolimnology?
Paleolimnology is the archeological examination of lake sediments for the purpose of reconstructing past environmental conditions. Sediments provide a history of long-term trends in water quality, algal and aquatic plant abundance, and community composition. By cross-referencing these factors against what we know of more recent human activities, water level and climate changes, scientists will have a better chance of determining the area’s water quality.
Where has GBF supported these studies?
The paleolimnological studies were conducted in the North and South Bays of Honey Harbour to show historic water quality, water levels, and temperatures by analyzing fossils in freshwater sediments that have accumulated over the past 500 years. This research helped to establish baseline conditions before European settlement and enabled comparisons of changes as they occur in relation to current and fluctuating water levels and water quality. The results showed that the water quality at the time of study (2013) had not significantly degraded over the last 500 years, however, human activities were shown to have reduced water quality historically during the lumber industry of the late 1800s, the increase of shoreline development in the 1950’s and 60’s, and more recently with climate change impacts.
Microbial Source Tracking
Millions of illnesses related to contaminated water are reported in North America annually, resulting in billions of dollars in medical bills and resources for humans, pets, and wildlife, and much of the contamination comes from human or other animal feces in the water. Microbial source tracking (MST) research is a diagnostic tool which helps us to identify the source of organisms found in the water (such as bacteria), and determine whether they are naturally occurring or the result of human interaction such as failing septic systems or combined sewer overflows from municipal systems (CSO). This research produces critical information when it comes to city-planning, maintenance and mitigation, and general damage control.
For example: high levels of eColi may be detected in a public Georgian Bay beach, causing the township to issue a warning and close the area from recreation, spending time, money, and resources in the process. With MST we can determine the cause of the eColi, rather than simply be aware of its existence. Depending on if the eColi came from animals or humans, we can determine the need or lack thereof for intervention on wastewater treatment plant systems.
Where has this technique been used?
Our 2016 report shows that contaminant levels in the Township of Georgian Bay's water from humans, pets, and wildlife are well below detectable water-quality standard limits for Ontario. Barring any changes, the population of Georgian Bay Township should be confident that the area's current systems are working well.