Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Greenwashing Parking Lots

Parking lot newly resurfaced. Asphalt surface allows for zero infiltration of rain.

Last year the city announced with some fanfare the creation of green standards for parking lots. These standards give guidelines for building parking lots that will reduce their impact on the environment. Current construction methods are simple and cheap but add to a host of environmental problems. Black asphalt bakes in the sun. The cumulative effect of all the parking lots in the city along with other urban structures increases the urban heat island effect. When rain hits an asphalt surface, it heats up and quickly runs off into the nearest sewer. This warm water runoff in downtown Toronto is quickly routed toward watercourses such as the Don River. The flush of warm water along with all the grit, oil, and other pollutants it picks up along the way is the major cause of habitat degradation in our river systems.

The green standards seek to reduce these effects with a number of design changes. Foremost is the inclusion of permeable paving surfaces. This type of surface allows for infiltration of rain water into the underlying soil. Another consideration is to break up the expanse of asphalt by planting trees within the parking lot. Additionally swales can be added to capture runoff from the surface before it hits the sewers.

All this sounds great but it has apparently fallen on deaf ears when it comes to actually applying these methods. This past winter a parking lot in Stan Wadlow Park at the edge of Taylor-Massey Creek was resurfaced. The parking lot was completely resurfaced with asphalt. Only one small island around a hydro pole was left for planting. On the south side of the parking lot a swale was dug but this will have next to no effect because the asphalt surface has been graded to slope away from it toward the middle where there are two storm drains. This means that less than 1% of the total parking lot runoff will flow into the swale.

Storm drains in centre of parking area. Asphalt is sloped down toward them which collects all the runoff.

Swales are meant to trap runoff but this one will capture none. Curb stones prevent most runoff reaching the swale and the asphalt is sloped away from it.

So, it seems that on the surface the city has tried to apply the new standards but the application here is paper thin. The city needs to set a higher standard when redesigning its own parking lots. How do they expect private parking lot builders to do better when they fail so miserably?

One small area left open. Since it's next to a hydro pole there won't be any shade trees, just decorative shrubs.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Podcast on Don River History

A new website has appeared called NICHE which stands for Network in Canadian History and Environment. In a nice twist the acronym is the same in French: Nouvelle Initiative Canadienne en Histoire de l'Environnement.

On the website are several projects including one entitled Nature's Past, a member project about the environmental history community and current research in Canada. The first podcast episode released December 10, 2008 was about the Don River. It is 45 minutes long and features an interview with Jennifer Bonnell, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who is writing her thesis on the environmental history of the Don River. For anyone who is interested in local Toronto history it is certainly very interesting. It shows how early Toronto history was closely intertwined with the Don River and its valley.

The project has released three more podcasts on a variety of Canadian stories related to environmental history. When I have some time I will certainly check out the rest of the website which is rich in content. Episode 1 is about 41 Mb which is certainly small enough for most portable listening devices. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NETP Update on Crothers' Woods

I received an update from the "Natural Environment Trails Program" with the City of Toronto. Details about Trail Stewardship sessions will be posted when more details are available.

2009 looks like it is going to be another busy and exciting year for the Natural Environment Trails Program. Here are a few of the upcoming activities and events:

Crothers Woods Trail Management Strategy
We will be continuing with our implementation of the Crothers Woods Trail Management Strategy in 2009. Projects expected to be completed by the end of the year include: New trailheads at Pottery Rd, Bayview Avenue, Redway Rd. and Beechwood, improvements to existing degraded and unsustainable single trail, a new double trail around Sun Valley and the development of a signage and wayfinding program to be implemented in 2010.

As construction schedules are finalized and we move closer to the building season we will keep park users up to date. As always, we will be asking park users to respect the closure of all construction areas.

Trail Building Workshops
This year NETP will be hosting a community trailbuilding day with IMBA Canada in the fall. All members of the public are encouraged to join us to give back to the trails in Crothers Woods. Details to follow.

Trail Stewardship Opportunities
This year, in partnership with IMBA Canada, NETP will be offering 4 opportunities for local community groups to participate as a group as trail stewards in Crothers Woods. These will be half day events (full days for those who would like to contribute more) with a trail leader from IMBA Canada and NECP staff. Stewardship groups will address any current maintenance, monitoring, planting, or trail construction requirements in Crothers Woods. If you have a group that would be interested in joining us for one of these events (minimum 10 people) please contact us at trails@toronto.ca or 416-338-DIRT (3478) for more details.

Rosemount Sewer Project
As many of you have noticed the Rosemount Sewer is currently under construction which will disrupt access into Crothers Woods. Notices have been posted at all entrances into the park outlining timing of closures and areas under construction. Please respect all areas that are closed.

All areas disrupted by the construction of the new sewer have extensive trail and ecological restoration plans which will be implemented once construction is completed.


Natural Environment Trails Program
(416) 338-DIRT (3478)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Don Path Reroute

Bank erosion

Just south of the forks of the Don, the river runs through a relatively deserted section of the valley. Apart from a hydro corridor and the Leaside bridge there is not much to see other than the path and the river. This actually makes it a good place to view the river because there is nothing else to distract your attention. The path parallels the river and at times is right beside it. Unfortunately this causes problems when the river decides to do something like move its banks.

Erosion starting to cut into path

Last summer the river started cutting into the bank near a willow tree which was anchoring the bank. This cut became enlarged during a heavy rainstorm. The city put up a fence but it was obvious that the path would start to collapse into the river.

New path is to the left, the old path ran along the fencing. The asphalt has already been removed.

So early this spring a crew came in to close down the path next to the river and move it about 10m away. The detour is very smooth riding but you can't see the river as much in this section.

I took a short video while riding along the new section. Since the audio is not very interesting (wind and traffic noises) I found some 'riding' music and used that instead. The track is from SomaFM, an internet radio station that streams a variety of techno music. This track is from the stream called Groove Salad, one of my favourites.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Other Spring 2009 Events

I make a point of listing events happening in the Don Valley but there are other events happening that are indirectly related to the Don. Native Plant Girl has compiled a good list of environment related events for this spring. Check it out, you'll likely find something of interest.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring 2009 Publications

The Task Force to Bring Back the Don has released their spring 2009 newsletter. Highlights include, volunteering, updates on waterfront, sewers and community stewardship. Also listed are Don Valley events for the spring.

The City of Toronto has also made their spring events list available to. These include events all across Toronto.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bow & Arrow Joins the Deadpool

Pint glass from a past Bow & Arrow fundraiser

This may seem like an odd post, but there is a connection to the Don. The Bow & Arrow pub, one of my favourite haunts near Yonge and Davisville has closed. There is a sign in the window "Closed for Renovations" but from comments I've heard, and the notice on the pub's website the situation is more dire than that. The Bow was a past supporter of some Don River groups. They raised money through charity dinners for Friends of the Don East and more recently the Taylor-Massey Project.

When I heard about it I was somewhat chagrined but not altogether surprised. When I started going about 10 years ago I found that the pub had the idea of marrying good food with good beer. They had an excellent chef (the bison burger was amazing!) and poured about 20 local microbrews, everything from Steamwhistle Pilsner to Maclean's Pale Ale.

Then about 2003, the two co-owners split and the remaining owner cut costs on food. The good chef left and the quality of the kitchen declined. The pub had an upstairs room that was rarely used and the place was starting to get a dingy look as it hadn't been renovated for quite some time. The writing was on the wall, apparently.

I scouted around the net for some information about the closing and came across a chat forum at bartowel.com. One comment is quite telling:
The Bow isn't closed for renovations, it's closed because of tax problems, frozen credit, and the fact their entire staff walked out because they weren't being paid. It will take an unlikely major rescue by the Neighborhood Pub Group to revive it.
So that seems to be that. A new pub might reopen in the same location but there is no telling if it will have the same format as before. This is too bad because the pub is in a convenient location to go to after exiting from either the Yellow Creek or Mud Creek ravines. It looks like I shall have to find another place to go to at the end of my Don Valley hikes.

N.B. The "deadpool" is a term I've taken from BlogTO which has recently started a forum listing restaurants that have closed down.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Another Sewer For the Don

New sewer outlet near mouth of East Don

Travelling in the lower Don is tough in early spring. The paths are lined with frozen mush so it is hard to walk or bike. But I managed anyways yesterday given some unusual mild weather. My goal was to see for myself some recent work being done in the valley. And I was not disappointed. Just up from the forks of the Don near the Elevated Wetlands, there is a small site which has seen some furious construction activity. Toronto Water has built a new sewer outlet which will empty out directly into the Don River.

It is of course their fervent hope that it will not be used but recent discoveries in the trunk sewer beneath the valley led to this construction. As reported in the news early January, cracks were discovered in a Coxwell Trunk sewer pipe that services nearly a million Toronto residents. The city does not know the full extent of the damage nor do they know if or when the pipe will fail. But being sensible people, they need to plan for the worst case. This worst case scenario would mean that the sewage water flowing through the pipe would need to flow somewhere and right now that means directly into the Don River.

Other contingency plans are also in the works. The main plan is to build a diversion pipe around the damaged pipe so that the flow can be directed into a parallel pipe around the damaged section. This will cost between 7-30 million dollars and take 12-18 months to build. In the event that something occurs in the interim there are a couple of emergency options:
  1. Pictured above. Divert the flow into the Don River. Allow it to flow down to the harbour where a PVC curtain will be anchored stopping the effluent from reaching the lake. The water will be pumped out and directed toward Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant.
  2. Direct the flow to the North Toronto Treatment Plant. This plant now services parts of Leaside and the Yonge Eglinton area. There is an overflow pipe from this plant to the damaged trunk sewer. It would be possible to reverse the flow in this pipe back to the treatment plant. The NTTP is way too small to handle the complete flow from the Coxwell Trunk Sewer but could do primary treatment before sending into the river
  3. Build a temporary pipe above ground around the damaged section. This could be built along the Don Valley or above ground on Coxwell Avenue. This one doesn't sound very palatable and would cause major disruptions in traffic and pedestrian flow in this neighbourhood.
Toronto Water is also doing due diligence with the rest of the system and so far they have investigated pipes in downtown Toronto and the rest of the Don. They are happy to report that no other major problems have been found, although they still have to investigate systems in Scarborough and Etobicoke.

Additional construction will start later this spring when they start to bore a hole underneath the valley for the diversion pipe. It is is hoped that this can be done with a mininum of disruption to the natural environment. Let's all cross our fingers and hope that this is a successful project.

Toronto Water built a temporary bridge across mouth of Taylor-Massey Creek

Barbara Crescent is an unassuming street in East York. The damaged sewer pipe is directly beneath this line of markings on the street

Ominous street markings indicate what lies beneath

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spring 2009 Events

Planting in Taylor Creek Park, Spring 2008

Spring is in the air... I can feel it! There may be one last blast left in winter but that hasn't stopped Don River groups from posting spring events. Here are some to whet your appetite.

Friends of the Don East - Things kick off April 11 with the regular cleanup at Todmorden Mills. There are also two tree plantings scheduled.

Taylor Massey Project - This group has two cleanups and two tree plantings.

Trees Across Toronto - The city is continuing with this annual event on April 25. The two regular Don sites are at Sun Valley and Earl Bales Park.

Paddle the Don - The day is set for May 3. Hikes and bicycle tours are also being planned for the same day.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ducks on the Don

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) ducks swimming in the river

Nothing much to report these days so I present a recent but blurry picture of some bufflehead ducks swimming in the Don River