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!

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