When the score is F, it can’t get any worse
Another analysis of area rivers and creeks provides clear evidence that water supplies in the rural parts of the Far East of Ontario are very murky. But, incredibly, there is actually a bright side to the Raisin Region Conservation Authority’s “report card.”
The agency tries to put a positive spin on what is a grim scenario. “Some encouraging results” can be gleaned from the evaluation, the RRCA said in a press release. But there is little reason to be buoyant after dipping below the surface and looking at the sad numbers.
The assessment of the Raisin River produces a C average, a C+ for forest conditions and surface water quality and a C for wetland conditions, the same ratings that were given in 2007. And certain South Glengarry creeks get F grades in all categories. The RRCA failing grades mirror those handed down by the South Nation River Conservation Authority in its recent report card.
That study found that deforestation has adversely affecting drinking water in the South Nation basin, where quality ranges from “excellent” to “very poor,” and shrinking forest cover has contributed to “stressed” conditions.
Areas where surface water quality is poor typically have low forest cover along the banks of rivers, leading to a loss of filtration, erosion control and habitat, the conservation authority pointed out in its State of the Nation Watershed Report Card.
Groundwater provides drinking water to more than 95 per cent of the rural population within the SNC’s jurisdiction, which encompasses a massive territory that includes parts of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and Prescott-Russell.
“We rely on nature for multiple benefits for both a healthy, productive environment and healthy people,” observes Katherine Watson, SNC’s Water Resources Specialist.
This is a sobering reality considering that human animals do not have a great track record of cooperating with nature.
Another fact is that these conservation authorities, despite their good intentions, have little clout when it comes to limiting or repairing the damage caused by human activity.
Most of the land is privately owned and owners have every legal right to do whatever they want with their properties. And there is no political will to impose stricter land-use limits.
Thus, agencies are left to try to coax land owners to take the initiative and enact their own environmentally-friendly policies.
“Despite the steady losses in forest and wetland cover, the landowner restoration actions that have been undertaken over the last two decades have seen an improvement in water quality in our rivers and streams,” the RRCA says.
“Although many features are still impaired and significantly so in a number of watersheds, it has been the past actions of landowners in implementing best management practices with their agricultural activities that are currently reflecting improvements in the water quality of many of the tributaries.”
Alas, “improvements” are well concealed in the detailed assessments of many creeks.
For example, in the Finney Creek watershed, there is no wetland cover.
In the Sutherland Creek, the amount of forest cover, at 20 per cent, is low and may not be ecologically sustainable. “There is no forest interior present meaning the existing woodlots are too small and/or nar- row to support sensitive species that need to live in large protective forests,” reads the report.
The RRCA and the South Nation agency keep promoting subsidies and programs that are designed to counter deforestation.
You have to love conservationists in Eastern Ontario; they are such starry-eyed dreamers.
It is highly unlikely that after investing money and time into clearcutting and draining forests, farmers are going to suddenly turn around and start planting trees on land they have just levelled.
And yet we are reminded that protection of all woodlands and locally significant wetlands at the municipal planning level is a very important and effective method of preserving local forest cover.
The RRCA recommendations for action include planting grass or tree buffers along creeks, rivers and open drains to filter runoff and provide shade.
Forest interior can be increased by “bulking up” woodlots to make them larger and rounder by planting native trees and shrubs around existing woodlots or allowing the edges to naturalize on their own.
Connections can be made between woodlots and hedgerows or windbreaks along fields, waterways and roads.
Biodiversity can be increased by planting native trees and shrubs around wetlands or allowing the edges to naturalize on their own.
Owners can fence out livestock, and to create or improve the size of individual wetlands, owners should contact the conservation authority for assistance in designing a wetland project. Well, that is enough of the idealistic talk. Many of our water courses show high readings for phosphorous, bacteria, including E.coli, that contribute to excessive algae and low oxygen in streams and lakes. This toxic soup is a blend of all sorts of household and farm products that flow into our water.
Considering the way we use our planet, the poor grades should come as no surprise to anyone.
And yes, there is a bright side to these dismal report cards -- when you are at rock bottom, there is no way the situation can get any worse, can it?
Richard Mahoney, richard@glengarrynews