Chair – Friends of the Muskoka Watershed
Friends of Muskoka Watershed (FMW) has just submitted a grant application to the Ontario Trillium Foundation with the purpose of raising public awareness of this issue. After all, awareness is the essential first step to generating the will for action. Assuming we are successful with the application we will hire a “Halt the Salt” advocate to:
We are confident that we can solve this road salt problem. We have solved previous pollution problems in the bay, i.e. the excessive phosphorus loading that caused algal blooms in the 50s. Have a look at the graph below:
This graph* shows measured (after 1950), and lake sediment-inferred (the earlier data) phosphorus levels in the Muskoka Bay over the last 250 years. Today’s levels are similar to what they were 250 years ago, but it took an effort to get back there. Early settlement and land clearing led to a doubling of phosphorus in the bay in the 1800s and early 1900s, then levels spiked with sewage input in the mid-1950s. With those levels, blue-green algal blooms were a common sight. This graph shows how our community managed to cut phosphorous in Muskoka Bay from disastrously-high levels in the 1950s. The next challenge is to do the same thing for rising salt levels.
*Data sources for the graph:
Chairman – Friends of the Muskoka Watershed
Friends of the Muskoka Watershed takes on the most widespread threats to our lakes that aren’t being adequately resolved, pointing the path forward to solutions. That is the basis of our ASHMuskoka project. We selected it because “ecological osteoporosis” (environmental calcium decline) was damaging almost half of our lakes.
So, other than climate change, what is the next most widespread anthropogenic threat to the health of our lakes? The answer may surprise you. I believe it is road salt, and its signature is the concentration of chloride in our lakes.
The graph below shows chloride levels rising over the last 35 years in Lake Muskoka. Chloride levels in remote undeveloped lakes in Muskoka are currently less than 1 mg/L, and they’d barely show on this graph. Chloride was first sampled in Lake Muskoka in 1983 downstream of Bala. At that time, levels were just under 3 mg/L, levels we can assume were typical of much of the lake. Since then, levels at four open water stations in the lake have risen to about 6 to 7 mg/L. Doing the arithmetic, the lake now holds about 15,000 tonnes of salt in its waters – 15,000 tonnes! While chloride levels have been pretty stable in the open waters of the lake over the last 20 years, they continue to rise in Gravenhurst Bay, indicating a rising local source.
Well. So what. Levels are now roughly 15 times above background in Gravenhurst Bay, but is this a problem? Recent work from Queen’s University scientists working with the FMW and MECP proves that it is. At levels of 5 to 40 mg/L of chloride, the death rates of 6 species of Muskoka water fleas increased and their production of offspring dramatically decreased. Daphnia and her cousins are the little living lawnmowers that help to keep our lakes clean by filtering the algae. Gravenhurst Bay has been the stage on which past pollution events have been played. In the 1960s phosphorus levels from municipal sewage were high enough that algal blooms were a common occurrence. If salt pollution is killing the water fleas that eat the algae, the risk of algal blooms is again on the horizon, this time not because of increased algal growth, but because of reduced grazing of algae by their predators – the animal plankton including Daphnia. Keep tuned to how the FMW plans to help confront this issue.
Data sources: MOE (1983 to 1995) and DMM (after 2000), thanks to Huaxia Yao, Andrew Paterson, and Rebecca Williston.
We needed to move approximately 2.5 tonnes of blended, raw wood ash from our storage site at the Rosewarne transfer station in Bracebridge to our three test sites in Muskoka – three volunteer sugar bushes – so that the ash could be spread on the designated test plots. This was equivalent to about 22 garbage cans full of ash for each site, 66 cans in total.
Current Ontario regulations dictate that wood ash – at this time classified as a non-hazardous solid waste – must be transported from the storage site by an approved (read licensed) waste hauler.
Thanks to Nick Andrews, Director of Operations for Aces, for volunteering a roll-off bin truck along with John, a most capable and helpful driver, who were dispatched to move these cans to the 3 sites, all of which required superior driving skill for a truck of that size to access.
Friends of the Muskoka Watershed is sincerely grateful for the Aces team and its equipment for making these vital deliveries possible.
Truth be told, neither have we. But we are desperately looking for one. And maybe you have seen it.
You see, we really need a place to store and process approximately 100 tonnes of wood ash in preparation for our large-scale deployment in the third year of the ASHMuskoka program. And though we gratefully acknowledge the support which the District Municipality of Muskoka has provided by allowing us storage space at the Rosewarne transfer site in Bracebridge for our first year, it is not enough space for our next phase.
Please contact us at:
Or via our contact page:
If you are able to put up our request for assistance poster, that, too, would be appreciated. You may download a printable PDF version here: