Thinking Beyond the Near and Now
Recent Legislation: Framework for the Future
In the past year, a great deal of legislation has been passed that addresses some of Ontario’s most serious environmental problems, creating a strong framework on which the province can build in the future. The most important of these new Acts are the Nutrient Management Act (68-72) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (80-85). The effectiveness of these new Acts will depend on the regulations and policies that put the legislation into effect. The regulations will have to resolve the conflict between the need for a workable system of managing nutrients on Ontario farmlands and the basic necessity of protecting the source of our drinking water. Both programs will need adequate financial resources and enforcement to be successful.
The Environmental Impacts of Sewage Treatment Plant Effluents (35-49)
Discharges from municipal sewage treatment plants are a major cause of water pollution in Ontario. Wastes such as persistent organic pollutants, cleaning agents, hormones, and pharmaceuticals can accumulate in sewage sludge or even pass untreated into Ontario’s lakes and rivers. Many sewage treatment plants are currently operating near the upper limit of their capacity or are already overloaded, and facilities in 15 Ontario municipalities still have “primary” treatment systems, which provide only mechanical screening and settling of solids.
Sewers in many older urban areas combine both sanitary sewage and storm water, and during wet weather sewage can bypass the sewage treatment plants and overflow into waterways – in some cases raw sewage is directly entering Ontario lakes and rivers. The combined sewer systems that discharge into Toronto’s watersheds, for example, are the most significant cause of degradation of the city’s waterfront. When an environmental organization used the Environmental Bill of Rights to request an investigation of the sewer systems at Toronto’s Ashbridges Bay (155-158), the Ministry of the Environment admitted that the sewage treatment plant contributed to the Bay’s high concentrations of bacteria, metals and organic pollutants, yet didn’t follow through with an independent investigation.
Aggregate Use in Road Construction (29-35)
Ontario is using up its deposits of stone, gravel and sand at ever-increasing rates without fully considering the impacts on the environment – and without a plan that would make the best use of these non-renewable resources. Ontario’s new road construction standards demand the higher quality aggregates that are located only in places like the Niagara Escarpment and the Carden Plain, which are also areas of significant natural habitat. Although the Aggregate Resources Act requires the rehabilitation of aggregate sites, land is being degraded faster today than it is being rehabilitated.
Sludge Spreading Sites Exempted from the EBR (147-149)
Sewage sludge, which is spread on farmlands to provide plant nutrients, can contain pathogens and other pollutants that contaminate ground and surface waters. But the Ministry of the Environment has no requirement that the local municipality or its residents be notified when sewage sludge is spread on nearby lands, and the municipality also does not have the right to refuse sludge applications outright. Ontarians used the Environmental Bill of Rights to ask that people be consulted before the sludge is spread. At this point, the ministry is considering a proposal that the sludge hauler consult with the municipality before the sludge is spread, and that neighbours be informed just before it is applied on adjacent farmlands.
Sound Sorb (150-155)
Sound Sorb, a mixture of sand and paper mill sludge, has been used for the past three years in southern Ontario to build high berms around gun clubs. The material continues to decompose after it is deposited, and the liquid leaching out at the base of the berms has been found to contain high levels of both fecal coliform bacteria and E.coli. But because Sound Sorb was not designated as a “waste” by the Ministry of the Environment, the material is not regulated under the Environmental Protection Act. Thus, there are no environmental conditions attached to using it – for instance, no requirement for monitoring nearby groundwater.
Dead Animals (187-190).
In the past, as many as 300,000 dead animals were picked up each year from Ontario farms and sold to rendering plants. But by the end of the 1990s, partly as a result of BSE (“mad cow” disease) in Britain, the market for rendered products in Ontario declined, and the situation was worsened by Canada’s 2003 BSE case. Today many more dead animals must be disposed of by livestock farmers themselves. Improper on-farm burial can lead to the contamination of ground and surface waters and the spread of disease, since major pathogens can be found in animal carcasses.
Farmed Elk and Deer (191-194):
Chronic wasting disease, which is in the same class of diseases as BSE, was found on Saskatchewan elk farms in the 1990s and more recently in wild deer in that province. Although the disease has not been discovered in farmed elk and deer in Ontario, unless the province is extremely vigilant, the disease could spread to wild populations in Ontario, with devastating results for native deer. Wisconsin, for example, is killing up to 40,000 deer in an attempt to eradicate the disease in that state.
Creating and Conserving Electricity (56-61)
The generation of electricity has major impacts on the environment in Ontario, including emissions of greenhouse and acid gases, particulates and smog precursors. The province is committed to phasing out its coal-fired plants, and many of Ontario’s rapidly aging electricity enerating plants and dams will need to be rebuilt or replaced in the coming decades simply to meet existing demand. But Ontario has a growing population, along with a growing demand for electricity. Careful planning is needed now so that conservation and alternative and renewable energy can help to balance the demand for electricity with protection of the environment.
Creating a Biodiversity Framework for Ontario (49-53)
Ontario’s native species are threatened by urban sprawl, industry, forestry, pollution and invasive species. Yet Ontario, unlike other provinces, has not developed an integrated strategy that could deal with these threats in a coordinated way. Instead, the province still depends on a patchwork of outmoded and ineffective laws to protect endangered species.
Species at Risk (134-138)
The large number of species at risk is an indicator of the state of biodiversity in Ontario. The Ministry of Natural Resources lists only half of the species that appear on the federal government’s endangered list. Although four of these species have already disappeared, MNR is delaying legal protection of many endangered species because of protracted consultations with landowners.
Wolf Conservation Strategy (139-143)
Although Ontario’s eastern wolves have disappeared from much of their former range, the Ministry of Natural Resources turned down a request from two wildlife groups to protect the wolves, key predators in the healthy functioning of Ontario’s ecosystems. Instead, the province is promoting an almost year-round, no-bag limit open season for hunting and trapping these animals, in spite of having no reliable quantitative data on eastern wolves, which are listed nationally as a species at risk.
Invasive Species (76)
Although invasive species have been called the number one threat to the biodiversity of the Great Lakes Basin, Ontario’s slow and piecemeal efforts to combat this threat don’t begin to reflect the seriousness of the problem. More than 160 of these species have invaded the Great Lakes Basin since the 1800s, including zebra mussels, sea lampreys, and gypsy moths. Today the emerald ash borer is threatening to spread to southwestern Ontario, putting at risk one billion ash trees in Ontario, and the Asian carp, which “vacuums” up fish, mussels and vegetation, is now found only a few kilometers from Lake Michigan.
Ecological Land Acquisition Program (96-97)
The Ministry of Natural Resources says that a key priority of its new Natural Heritage Strategy for MNR’s Southcentral Region (98-100) is to establish parks and protected areas that will help in the recovery of Ontario’s endangered species. But the money the ministry has budgeted through its Ecological Land Acquisition Program for buying natural areas, especially in southern Ontario, will not begin to amass the property necessary to connect the gaps between the region’s fragmented ecosystems.
Northern Boreal Initiative (91-95)
The introduction of forestry to the Northern Boreal Region could have significant impacts on the area’s untouched ecosystems and on wildlife that are sensitive to human disturbance, such as wolverine and woodland caribou. The ECO believes there is an urgent need for planning to take place, setting aside parks and protected areas, before opening up this region to logging.
Seed Stock and Afforestation in Ontario (194-199)
The closing of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ provincial nurseries in the past decade has led to a severe shortage of the native tree seeds necessary for successfully reforesting private lands in Ontario. This lack of genetically appropriate seed stock, once collected locally by the provincial nurseries, makes it impossible to undertake the large-scale afforestation plan necessary for restoring degraded habitat in order to maintain Ontario’s biodiversity.