Overall, drinkable water in Tay is reportedly much better than it was thirty years ago, but there are still areas of concern.
Aisha Chiandet, water scientist at Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA), provided Tay council with a presentation about the organization’s monitoring and stewardship activities that included a look at compounds that affect water quality.
“It's critical that we continue to monitor environmental conditions, maintain improvements that have been made, and continue to invest in environmental protection in order to prevent regressing to conditions encountered when Severn Sound was listed as an area of concern,” Chiandet began.
Severn Sound was designated as an area of concern in 1985 when excess phosphorus enrichment caused resulted in high algae growth and it was listed as one of the most polluted areas on the Great Lakes.
A remedial action plan was developed shortly thereafter to improve water quality and restore a healthy ecosystem to the Severn Sound area, led by Environment Canada and the Ministry of the Environment.
“As you know, Tay uses the open waters of Severn Sound for municipal drinking water, so it's imperative that these waters are monitored and protected,” Chiandet explained.
Within the short delegation, Chiandet scratched the surface of accumulated data regarding environmental monitoring for open water and tributary sites, aggregating variables of physical, biological, and chemical characteristics.
“Phosphorus has declined over the long term but has plateaued in recent years, although it is meeting the targets set in the remedial action plan,” said Chiandet. “At deeper locations, water clarity has been declining since the mid-90s, likely tied to changes in algae growth. Sodium, and also chloride, has been increasing since measurements began (around 1973), likely tied to road salt and dust suppressant usage across the watershed.
“In the vicinity of the Rope subdivision intake, the sodium threshold above which the local health unit must be notified is often exceeded,” Chiandet added, also explaining that a steadily increasing surface temperature has been likely playing a role in increased algae growth.
A raw water assessment report was provided to Tay in 2020 by the SSEA, containing details on conditions in the open waters near the intakes, and on the raw water at the low lift plants. These drinking water intakes were sampled for raw water quality.
“Most operational guidelines were met except for organic nitrogen,” Chiandet informed council, “and aesthetic adjectives for temperature, colour, turbidity and dissolved organic carbon were often or consistently not met. “During the summer algae taste and odour compounds were often present at levels detectable by the average person.
“In 2021,” Chiandet continued, “there have been several instances of measurable microcystin concentrations, which has prompted additional algae sampling by SSEA for analysis by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. SSEA also provided training to Tay water plant operators on identifying blue-green algae during their visual inspections at each low lift plant.”
Tributary monitoring identified mostly cool stream reaches in the Tay portions of the Wye River and Hogg Creek sub-watersheds through thermal classification analysis, stated Chiandet.
“Warm water sites should be a priority for stream-bank improvements, while cold and cool streams should be protected from stressors like stormwater inputs and land clearing along riverbanks,” said Chiandet, explaining that land-use planning and operations maintenance can benefit from the stream temperature monitoring program.
Invertebrates monitored at tributaries provided the SSEA with information on pollution-sensitive species proportions and diversity, which showed an improvement at the upstream Hogg Creek site, and the deterioration of organic enrichment conditions at the downstream Sturgeon River site; Chiandet quickly added that it was still within “the good range.”
One main data set, which put context into all the others, focussed on water chemistry from four long-term sites on Hogg Creek and the Wye, Sturgeon and Severn Rivers, as results were noted as key indicators of human impact on the environment.
“Across all sites, there has been a reduction in phosphorus and suspended sediment concentrations, but an increase in nitrate plus chloride concentrations,” Chiandet explained.
“Provincial water quality objectives for total phosphorus are generally being met, however over the last 10 years, the guideline has been exceeded 14% of the time, mostly on Hogg Creek during the fall to spring period.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that water quality of tributaries feeding into Severn Sound have a direct effect on water quality in the open waters. In other words, protecting the watershed and maintaining tributary water quality is key to protecting open water quality -- the source of Tay’s municipal drinking water,” stated Chiandet.
In addition to the monitoring aspect of the update, Chiandet spoke about the stewardship portion with SSEA activities.
“Our key stewardship activities in the township include tree planting and invasive species surveillance and management. We were excited to be able to deliver our tree programs this year despite COVID-19 restrictions, and a big thank you to Tay residents for great program uptake,” said Chiandet.
Four citizen science programs complement SSEA monitoring, with 14 Tay volunteers being involved in 2021. Chiandet took a moment to thank Coun. Jeff Bumstead for his help in recruiting volunteers.
“This year we've had observations of aquatic plant and stream-bank erosion reported, and last year participants reported on water level impacts, invasive species, species at risk and water clarity,” said Chiandet.
Bumstead took time to thank Chiandet and the SSEA for the presentation, and asked how plans were for reopening their home office. Chiandet responded that due to restrictions and a possible fourth wave of COVID-19, safety measures placed precedence over a full reopening to their facility.
Coun. Barry Norris asked Chiandet if the SSEA could assist the township in dealing with invasive Phragmites to which she replied that SSEA activities skewed more towards surveillance and managerial approaches.
Informative slides from the SSEA delegation can be viewed within the agenda from the Tay regular meeting.
Tay council meets for regular council meetings every fourth Wednesday of the month. Further information including council’s agenda can be found on the Tay township website.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca