Lake Ontario: to be watched.

A translation by Judith Turcotte

The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River form a whole that depends on the actions, good and bad, of two countries. Since 1909, Canada and the United States have signed a Boundary Waters Treaty in order to resolve the disputes on the subject of the utilization of the waters shared by the two countries. The International Joint Commission (IJC) follows the Treaty’s guidelines. The IJC governs the utilization of the shared waters and investigates cross-border problems with the aim of recommending solutions. On its homepage, the IJC states that its decisions take into account the utilization of the water as drinking water, for commercial navigation, hydroelectric production, agriculture, fishing, industries, yachting and waterfront properties.

The pollution of the lakes and the river isn’t specifically mentioned but I must assume that the pollution is implied in most of the activities. The treatment of the wastewater and the discharges aren’t mentioned even if they represent an important source of pollution.

Lake Ontario discharges its waters into the St. Lawrence River and we have no other choice but to monitor the efforts made to reduce the pollution of its waters. The improvement in the quality of its waters remains a significant challenge for the large cities on its banks, particularly the city of Toronto. As in Québec, the untreated sewer discharge remains problem number one. These discharges occur during heavy rains when the system cannot accommodate excessive volumes.

In 2019, the city of Toronto launched an infrastructure program of more than 3 billion dollars whose objective is to eliminate sewage discharges when there are heavy rains. In a first phase, a tunnel (Coxwell Bypass Tunnel) of 10.5 kilometres in length and 6.3 metres in width is under construction. This tunnel will receive Toronto’s overflow which is now discharged into Lake Ontario. The construction of the tunnel will also reduce the number of sewer backups in residences during these storms.

After the Coxwell Tunnel, the upcoming projects are those of Don River and Central Water that will add 22 kilometres of tunnel. Once completed, the discharge of wastewater into Lake Ontario will be a thing of the past.

The city of Toronto was forced to act under the pressure of nearly six million people who wanted access to the lake. As in Montréal, the city surrendered under the pressure of its citizens and opened several public beaches leaving the impression that progress had been made in the reduction of pollution. To protect the bathers, tests to verify the level of coliform (E.coli) are made on a daily basis. Following heavy rains, these beaches are closed due to the excessive level of coliform. The creation of these beaches was premature and the politicians didn’t have the courage to resist to public pressure and admit their failure to cease waste water discharges.

The population does not seem to be aware that the waters of the lake are polluted and they engage in many activities; we need only to think of windsurfers, paddleboard enthusiasts, fishermen or yachting. The levels of the lake’s coliform often surpass 30 times the level of coliform recommended for these activities according to federal standards.

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