HAMILTON HARBOUR, ON: ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS DISCUSS HARMFUL ALGAL BLOOMS (HABS)
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by Ion Etxebarria
A delegation of U.S. and Canadian environmental experts toured the Hamilton Harbour watershed on Wednesday and shared experiences with local organizations regarding Harmful Algal Blooms.
The tour was planned by a working group of Canadian and U.S. Great Lakes water experts that emerged from a meeting organized by the U.S. Consul General, Juan Alsace, in 2016.
"The intent of the tour was to facilitate exchange of experience, knowledge and ideas regarding the issue of Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs. Many of the organizations participating have been working on this issue in the context of the challenges facing Lake Erie of late - so given the richness of experience, we organized the tour to enhance our own understanding of the HAB issue in Lake Ontario, and to share with local organizations our own experiences," explained Tony Maas, co-chair with Kathryn Friedman of the working group and director of Forum for Leadership on Water.
Maas explained that even though there are other locations suffering from Harmful Algal Blooms on Lake Ontario, such as the Ajax area and the Bay of Quinte, the delegation decided to visit Hamilton Harbour due to "the diverse land and water uses in the watersheds that feed into the Harbour."
On May 14, a report presented to Hamilton`s Board of Health described that water quality at Pier 4 beach was unsafe for 70% of the swimming season due to mostly high algae concentrations.
"Pier 4 Park Beach would have been open to users for 67% of the season despite the high-water levels, if microcystin producing cyanobacteria were not present," informed the report. "Public Health Services will likely recommend closure of Pier 4 Beach (similar to Bayfront Beach) for the 2019 swimming season if a significant improvement in water quality does not occur during the 2018 monitoring season."
The first Harmful Algal Blooms were registered at Hamilton Harbour in 2001. One of the key strategies of the city of Hamilton to control algal blooms has been to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the Harbour, explains Kristin O'Connor, Coordinator of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan Office.
With this intent the regional municipality of Halton upgraded the Skyway Wastewater Treatment Plant to a tertiary treatment facility. The city of Hamilton increased the primary treatment capacity of the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant and began the construction of its tertiary filtration facility, estimated to be completed in 2021 at a cost of $150 million.
Among the subjects discussed with the delegation were complementary nonpoint source strategies, such as reducing phosphorus quantities coming from the watershed, including urban runoff and agricultural sources.
"It was a great discussion. Sometimes you feel alone and it is interesting to have a wider connection of experts that you can talk to and discuss strategies, " said O'Connor.
"One of our key goals was to ensure the folks around Hamilton Harbour are aware of the significant effort that has gone into both problem assessment and solutions in the Lake Erie context so that they don't feel they are 'starting from scratch', but rather that there are opportunities to leverage experience and networks of people and organizations from other parts of the Great Lakes region in Canada and the US dealing with this problem," explained Mass.
Both O'Connor and Mass praised the U.S. Consul General, Juan Alsace, for his commitment to water issues in the Great Lakes and providing the logistics for the tour.