Thursday, October 27, 2005

Invasive Species Blog

Likely the second biggest threat to the Don is non-native invasive species, especially plants and trees. These are aggressive species that literally take over an area where nothing else grows. They love to colonize disturbed sites which is pretty much the state of the entire lower Don. Species that are a big threat are Japanese Knotweed, Dog-strangling Vine, Garlic Mustard, and Canada Thistle (actually a native of Europe).

I have just found a weblog devoted to invasive species. Entitled Invasive Species Weblog, it gathers articles from all over the world about invading plants, fish, crustaceans, and other animals. The blog is written by Dr. Jennifer Forman Orth. Each entry is chock-a-block full of information and links to other related websites. If your interested in this type of information then be sure to bookmark this blog because it is top-notch stuff!

Recent posts have included an article on how native Lake Erie water snakes are making a comeback by feasting on invasive Round Gobys; an article from New Zealand about an invasive algae from North America called Rock Snot (Didymosphenia geminata); and recently an article from South Africa about an initiative to make coffins out of the wood from invasive trees.

P.S. I said the 2nd biggest threat. So what's the biggest threat? It has to be stormwater runoff, or is it dealing with the city bureaucracy? Perhaps a list of the top five threats to the Don will be the subject of a future posting...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Become a Deputy Don Watcher

Orange leachate seeping into Taylor-Massey Creek
(click to expand)

As you well know, our Toronto creeks, streams, and rivers are not pristine and pure like something you might find in the boreal forest or the mountains. Many of them have pipes and stormwater outfalls dumping water into them from unknown sources. Frequently the water is polluted with dissolved chemicals and e.coli bacteria. E.coli is an organism that is present in human sewage. When it shows up in the river you know that it came from somebody's toilet.

Sanitary sewers are all supposed to be connected directly to the treatment plant system but sometimes a property owner makes an improper or illegal connection to the storm sewer system. It's also possible for the sanitary system to leak into the storm system, especially in the older parts of the city.

A recent study of outfalls along Taylor-Massey Creek reported e.coli counts from 300/100 ml upwards to 1,200,000/100 ml. The Provincial Water Quality Objectives specify that safe levels should not exceed 200/100 ml. The city's sewer use bylaw specifies levels of only 100/100 ml.

Of course it's often difficult to tell by looking at the water. The water may look clear but it can still be very polluted because bacteria are microscopic and other chemicals can be dissolved colourless in the water. However if you do see the water stained by a chemical, or there is a bad smell or there is anything out of the ordinary, there is some recourse.

Toronto Water has a spills hotline, 416-338-8888 which is monitored 24/7. Call this number and be prepared to describe what you saw, the location, and the date and time. Staff are pretty competent in dealing efficiently with a chemical spill as long as they know about it soon after it occurs. If they have enough information they can usually trace the spill to its source and take remedial action.

So if you are like me and bike or hike in the valley, you can now take personal action if you see some bad looking water. Anyone who does see something and reports it, let me know and I will appoint you a deputy Don Watcher!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Turning the Big Pipe into the Big Process

Toronto city councillors decided to stick their noses into York Region by voting to ask the province to defer further work on the York Region sewer project known as the 'Big Pipe'. Toronto wants this project to go through a full Environmental Assessment (EA).

The problem is that in order to pump all the sewage through the system, engineers need to supplement the flow with local water, and they're talking about millions of litres of water. Such a volume could de-water local wells and have serious negative implications on base flows for the Don and Rouge Rivers.

York Region, understandably is pissed because, firstly they think Toronto should butt out of their turf, secondly if this does go to a full EA it's going to slow down the project by at least two years, and thirdly they secretly know an EA will reveal the truth about this project.

Most of the local papers reported on this matter including the Globe and Mail.

Go Toronto!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fall Colours in the Don

View from Leaside Bridge
(click to expand)

For anyone who thinks they need to travel north to see the fall colours, they should come out to the Don valley instead. You can see vibrant colours and nice vistas like this one in the woods just north of Pottery Road called Crothers' Woods. The last two weeks of October will likely be the best time for viewing. The easiest access if your driving is from the Loblaws parking lot which is just off Millwood Rd. By TTC take the 100 Flemingdon Park bus from Broadview Station and get off at either Pottery Road or at Beechwood Drive.


Monday, October 17, 2005

No Go on Nordheimer

To be discussed at the Toronto and East York Committee meeting on Tuesday Oct. 18 is a little development plan on Russell Hill Road which borders on the Nordheimer Ravine, one of our nicer restoration areas. The developer is proposing to knock down one house and build two apartment buildings, a 4-storey and a 5-storey. There are currently 150 trees on site. The developer wants to chop down 86, 22 of these are mature, measuring >30 cm in trunk diameter. This violates the zoning bylaw, the ravine bylaw, the private tree bylaw, and the bylaw that says the city can't be so stupid as to approve a plan like this (OK, I made up the last one). City staff have quite rightly recommended that this proposal be turned down.

Look for this one to be appealed to the OMB. For your information, here is the city's report on the matter.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Taylor-Massey Creek Pollution Studies

Outfalls near St. Clair Ave. East and Birchmount
(Click to expand)

I'm still working on part III of the Taylor-Massey story but in the meantime I thought I would bring you up to date on some recent reports on Taylor-Massey Creek released through the Works Committee.

Last spring a spill occurred in the creek created by a very visible red dye. When staff said they didn't know where it came from, local councillor Janet Davis said they had bloody well better find out. Apparently this has lit a fire somewhere in the Works department because they have actually done some serious monitoring in TMC over the summer.

To no one's surprise they found that the creek is seriously polluted. Staff located 153 outfalls between the mouth and Pine Hills Cemetery. They plan to locate the remaining outfalls by next summer. Of the 153 outfalls, at least 68 have a base flow. Of those, 21 show levels of e.coli bacteria and other pollutants that exceed municipal and/or provincial water quality guidelines. In particular, e.coli levels greatly exceed the guidelines with one outfall showing a level of 1,200,000/100 ml. To put this in perspective, the city closes its beaches when levels exceed 100/100 ml!

Staff intend to do further studies on these 21 outfalls to determine the source of the pollution.

Storm Outfall Monitoring Report
Table 1: Outfalls Exhibiting Contamination
Table 2: Contaminated Outfall Locations

Also released is a report listing studies planned over the next year. These include a geomorphological study and a report on the feasibility of initiating (don't you just love city speak?) a class EA to remediate TMC outfalls.

TMC Planned Studies Report

Mike Adler, a reporter for the East York Mirror, attended the Works Committee meeting and has written two articles on this subject. Here are the links to the articles:

Creek Water Like Sewage: Tests Show

Action on Creek Pollution Promised

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bike Hike Report

View of the valley from "Party Atmosphere"
(click to expand)

I led a hike on Saturday. The route of this hike was along the trails in Crothers' Woods and E.T. Seton Park that are popular with mountain bikers. This was a joint endeavour of Bring Back the Don and the Toronto Bruce Trail Club. 43 hikers plus two leaders made for a fair sized group - down from 62 on my hike in the spring. Some people may have been deterred because it rained most of Friday, however the trails were in surprisingly good shape.

We spent most of the morning making our way through Crothers' Woods starting at Pottery Road and we had lunch at the south end of E.T. Seton Park (that's the park where the Science Centre is). We had some dropouts but most stayed for the challenging second part. This is a trail nicknamed "Party Atmosphere" by the bikers mostly because it is a technically challenging ride. It is also a tough hike.

The second part was easier than I anticipated so we finished up a little ahead of schedule. A long ride to the Bow & Arrow pub afterward for refreshments attracted 14 hikers. I received high praise for a well planned hike, although when I do the hike next year I plan to add another loop to add another hour or so to the route. That should please the hard core hikers even more.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

City Documents

New documents from city committees:

Terms of Reference for Wet Weather Flow Implementation Advisory Committee. This new committee will be populated by a wide range of 'stakeholders' from across the city, including at least 4 people representing groups in the Don watershed. This was presented at City Council in September.

Final Report for the Warden Corridor Land Use Planning Study. This report details urban uses for the area on the east side of Warden Avenue that runs from Danforth Rd to just north of St. Clair Ave. East. It seems to be big on building apartments and condos but light on environmental matters. This will be discussed at the Planning and Transportation Committee for Oct. 6, 2005.

Andrew McCammon and the Taylor Massey Project have published a policy document that argues for greater protection for Warden Woods when developing this area.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Taylor Massey Creek: The FODEY Story, Part II

Friends of the Don East York has had a long history of advocacy and environmental projects in Toronto. They started up in the early nineties around the same time as when the Task Force to Bring Back the Don got going. They provided the same sort of function in East York as the Task Force did in pre-amalgamation Toronto. The only difference being that they operated as a non-governmental organization.

FODEY was active in pushing East York Council to be more environmentally aware especially in the East York Official Plan. On environmental issues they were at the front lines fighting against the Leslie Street extension. During this time they persuaded the TRCA to designate Crothers' Woods as an Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) which was important at the time since Crothers' Woods was directly in the path of the extension plan. It still is but that plan has now morphed into a bus only road to be built as part of the Don Valley Transportation Master Plan.

Locally, they started a program called “Another Yard for the Don” which encouraged home owners to grow native plants and to create pesticide free zones. Another program called "Trees Count" was a survey of neighbourhood trees that encouraged property owners to plant trees. It also highlighted the problem of even aged street trees which may start dying off all at the same time, leaving our streets without their leafy canopy.

Of course FODE has always been pushing for restoration of the Taylor Massey Creek watershed. Some of their naturalization projects include the Goulding Estate on Dawes Road and Warden Woods. Recently FODE has started work on the degraded ravines between St. Clair and Eglinton.

The most recent project involving the creek is the Taylor Massey Project. The project known as TMP divides the watershed into 12 parts called reaches. Each reach is described using a series of aerial photos. The project's main goal is to highlight the issues and concerns that are sprinkled throughout the watershed. Another project goal is to create a trail along the entire length of Taylor-Massey Creek. The project is fully detailed on FODE's website with maps and descriptions.

After amalgamation when East York was merged into the City of Toronto they dropped the 'Y' and became just FODE. Recently FODE has attained charitable status. While this limits its ability to do advocacy (Canadian charities are not supposed to be politically active), it does allow it to raise funds more easily. They now have a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation which allows them to pay for an executive director.

Stephen Peck was the chair of FODE from its inception to about 1999. At that time he stepped down to pay more attention to his company called Green Roofs. Andrew McCammon stepped in and ably filled this role until late 2004. During this time he focused on the creation of the Taylor Massey Project. Also during this time he shepherded the process of converting FODE into a charity as well as the successful Trillium grant application. He departed abruptly to lead his own organization called the Taylor Massey Project. This created some consternation and controversy which will be the subject of part 3 of this story. Presently James McArthur fills the role of chair.

FODE's current focus is the creation of a network of stewardship teams to take care of important sites in the Taylor Massey watershed as well as planning for some new restoration sites. It is hoped that this will include at least one medium sized wetland project.

Next: the FODE - TMP schism, or this watershed ain't big enough for the two of us!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dog Run Update

Back in August I reported a little contretemps about a former restoration site being appropriated by an expanded dog run. After a lot of back and forth (and also after everybody got back from vacation), it was decided that yes this was inappropriate, that whomever made the decision in the first place overstepped their bounds and something needed to be done.

Enter the old fashioned compromise. In the accompanying map the original dog run (red) was added to by the new fenced area (green). The compromise (yellow) shows a more limited expansion that removes much of the restored area from the fenced dog run.

That's the new plan. Now all we need to do is reconfigure the fence and repair the damage to the restoration site. Nobody's sure when that will happen but at least we have an agreement to provide locks for the gates so no one has access until this is resolved. This is not likely to be the end of the story so stay tuned...