Waterfront Issues and Challenges
Historically, the Toronto waterfront featured bluffs and beaches, cobble reefs, estuaries and bays with productive marshes, wooded shorelines and meadows. Clear water streams and broad rivers meandered through densely forested watersheds from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. In these habitats, diverse communities of fish and wildlife found opportunities for shelter, food, spawning, nesting, over-wintering and migration. Over the past 200 years, the pressures of population growth and urban development have changed our waterfront drastically. These changes have caused serious environmental degradation. In 1987, the Toronto Bay Harbour was included on the International Joint Commission's list of 42 Areas of Concern (AOC) for the Great Lakes. While Waterfront development continues, regulations are in place that force more careful consideration of aquatic habitat, water quality and smart growth factors.
In 2003, Toronto and Region Conservation developed the Toronto Waterfront Aquatic Habitat Restoration Strategy (TWAHRS). The overall goal of the strategy is "to develop and achieve consensus on an aquatic habitat restoration strategy that will maximize the potential ecological integrity of the Toronto waterfront".
The strategy has four primary objectives:
1) Identify the potential for self-sustaining aquatic communities in open coast, sheltered embayments, coastal wetlands and estuaries.
2) Identify limiting factors, evaluate opportunities and propose actions to protect and enhance nearshore habitats and restore ecological integrity.
3) Develop sustainability indices to evaluate the success of the strategy, taking into account changes in land use and policy context.
4) Develop an implementation plan to restore aquatic habitats on the Toronto waterfront, including targets, actions, roles and responsibilities, public education, regular reporting and plan review.
Aquatic Habitat Toronto (AHT) is a consensus based group involving Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto and Region Conservation, and in consultation with the City of Toronto. AHT is responsible for the implementation of the TWAHRS. AHT facilitates the approvals process for Waterfront Toronto and other proponents working on the Toronto waterfront.
See www.aquatichabitat.ca for full strategy document.
See Waterfront Toronto www.waterfrontoronto.ca
Erosion Control and Flood Risk
The Toronto Region shoreline is subject to naturally occurring processes associated with flooding, erosion, and dynamic beach movement. TRCA's Lake Ontario Waterfront Development Program (1980) classifies the shoreline into four sectors; the Etobicoke Sector, the City of Toronto Sector, the Scarborough Sector and the Pickering/Ajax Sector. The Etobicoke Sector is characterized by a relatively uniform shore cliff, with variations from sandy sloping beaches to 6 metre bluffs. The City of Toronto shoreline is largely altered due to development however some sandy beaches, such as Cherry Beach, remain. The Scarborough Sector is dominated by the Scarborough Bluffs which can reach heights up to 91.4 metres. The Pickering/Ajax sector consists of smaller bluffs interspersed amongst sandy beach areas.
Where there is a lack of vegetation stabilizing the Toronto shoreline, land and infrastructure are at risk from erosion caused by wave activity. In each of the sectors, major and minor shoreline work is required to reduce the risks associated with flooding and erosion. This work includes the installation of wave breaks, shoreline armourstone, sand management and other measures that will serve to protect public safety and stabilize the shoreline.
Water Quality in the Toronto Harbour
The decline of water quality in the Toronto Harbour occurred gradually over 200 years of intensive development. Physical alteration of the natural water course through shoreline and stream channel alteration, land clearing, and other activities have made many areas unsuitable for fish and wildlife. Sewage and runoff continue to enter the rivers and subsequently the lake, posing significant risk to human health and aquatic life. There are now fewer native fish, bird, mammal and plant species in Lake Ontario than at any other time in human history.
Toronto and Region is one of 39 locations on the Great Lakes where local environmental degradation may be adversely affecting the broader Great Lakes system. These locations are referred to as Areas of Concern, and each Area of Concern is required to implement a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) to address the concerns that led to the Area of Concern designation.
Because of the declining water quality in the Toronto Harbour, the International Joint Commission designated Toronto an Area of Concern (AOC) in the Great Lakes. For each AOC designated, there is a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) in place. The Toronto and Region Remedial Action Plan focuses on five factors that target the safety, viability and enjoyment of the water in the Toronto Harbour. These five factors are as follows:
Heavy Metals and persistent organic compounds
Projects that receive RAP support in 2010-2011 include:
- Permeable Pavement Studies
- The Terrestrial Natural Heritage Program
- Aquatic Habitat Toronto initiatives
- Stewardship and Outreach programming
- The Regional Watershed Monitoring Network
- Watershed Plans, Strategies, and Coalitions
- RAP administration and communications
See http://torontorap.ca for more information.
See http://www.toronto.ca/water/protecting_quality/index.htm for information on City of Toronto water quality efforts.
Nearshore Water Quality Monitoring along the Ajax-Pickering Waterfront
As with much of the GTA, the municipalities of Pickering and Ajax have experienced intensive urbanization. Major infrastructure, including Ontario Power Generation's Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, the Ajax Drinking Water Treatment Plant, and the Duffins Creek Water Pollution Control Plant are all located on the shoreline of western Durham. The Town of Ajax, City of Pickering, Durham Region, and the TRCA, have collectively invested millions of dollars in acquiring lands for public use along the waterfront, and completing shoreline naturalization where possible. The waterfront is a valued amenity for local residents and visitors.
TRCA and its municipal partners have expressed an interest in better understanding the controlling factors, water quality conditions, and ecological health of the nearshore areas of Lake Ontario in order to help protect the waterfront as a healthy ecosystem and vibrant public amenity. As of 2007, water samples have been collected by TRCA as part of a long-term study designed to:
- Identify factors affecting water quality along the Ajax and Pickering waterfront
- Identify practices or sources of pollutants which cause beach closures and the growth of Cladophora (algae)
- Establish a knowledge base to guide water quality improvement actions and long-term
Our study area initially extended from the Rouge River in Scarborough, east to Carruthers Creek in Ajax, and included monitoring of the coastal marshes and embayments. The results of the 2007 to 2009 monitoring study were peer reviewed by Dr. Martin Auer of Michigan Technological University. The purpose of the peer review was to evaluate the local water quality monitoring program; the efficacy of current and proposed management actions, including the quantification of the relative roles of whole-lake water quality; and to identify regional and local stressors on water quality conditions in the Ajax-Pickering nearshore.
Dr. Auer's report is available to download as a pdf below.
After the review of 2007 to 2009 monitoring results, the design of the survey was modified to establish boundary conditions between the offshore and nearshore and to better understand conditions associated with thermal stratification and lake circulation. Surveys based upon this new design were completed in 2011 and 2012.
Results from the two surveys can be viewed online:
These efforts to understand local water quality conditions have been augmented by more comprehensive studies led by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and the University of Waterloo. Results of their investigations have appeared in a number of scientific publications. Inquiries concerning the peer review study should be directed to Mr. Gary Bowen