When the score is F, it can’t get any worse

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page -

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

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