Water: Our most precious resource

Standard of careDid you know there were water restrictions in Collingwood this summer? No? Well, there were. And that underscores the vulnerability of our community to climate change when a community situated on the Great Lakes has water restrictions.

The notice on the town’s web page said we were “experiencing drier than usual conditions” this summer – without explaining what “usual” conditions means, and whether the condition still applies. Well, the failure of communications this term and the need to communicate better and more effectively next term is the stuff for another post. This one is about water. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources wrote:

In Ontario, climate change is anticipated to result in milder, shorter winters with earlier snowmelt, less ice cover on lakes, changing rainfall patterns and increased evapotranspiration. All of these factors have an impact on the normal variation we experience in water supplies and will affect water infrastructure capacity and design… Changes to water supply will be difficult to predict and could mean that there may be less water available for residential use, agriculture, industry, waterpower generation, transportation, or recreation. Ecologically, changes to water supply will impact Ontario’s biodiversity, our wetlands, our shorelines and our forests.

Our municipal water system is good, but like most in the province, it was not designed to handle the increasing challenges of climate-related stresses we now face. 2018 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record – the three hotter ones were the previous three years! Extreme heat encourages people to use water more – for lawns, golf courses, gardens, drinking, filling pools. Increased demand for water can empty water towers and reservoirs faster and the system can’t fill them as quickly as the demand drains them.

But water use is just one issue.

Toxic algae is in the news every week. In many parts of the Great Lakes – and in Ontario’s inland lakes, too – there have been warnings about swimming and drinking because of blue-green algal blooms (cyanobacteria). Only last week, a family’s dog died after swimming in Lake Ontario and ingesting algae. Lakes Erie, Ontario and now Superior all have serious problems with algae this year (Erie has had them for many years). A media story this weekend had the headline, “Hot summer resulted in blue-green algal blooms on Ontario lakes.”

We’re extremely fortunate that it hasn’t happened here.

Yet.

It’s likely we will see algal blooms in Georgian Bay. Even when you can’t see them, the algae are already in the water, just not in significant amounts. But algae thrive on the nutrients used to fertilize crops, lawns and gold courses. And we have a lot of farms, homes and golf courses in our region to contribute to the runoff. It’s only a matter of time.
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