GBA Report – Rupert Kindersley, Executive Director, GBA

GBA is first and foremost an advocacy group addressing all levels of government on numerous issues that either currently affect the Bay, or could potentially impact it, and liaising regularly with a large number of like-minded non-government organizations. Our mandate is simple – to protect the Bay and the interests of GBA members – your interests.

We cannot do that without the incredible contribution of your GBA board of 23 talented volunteer directors, and many others – including a number of additional volunteers who have stepped forward to help out on our aquaculture and water committees this year. [Particular thanks should go to Claudette Young from South Channel who has led the successful GBA Aquaculture committee for around 20 years and is retiring from that role in the fall.]

2020 has been dominated by COVID-19. Prior to March we were able to make progress on a few fronts, but, since its outbreak, attention at all levels of government has been focused almost exclusively on addressing this health crisis. Other impacts include the suspension of the Lake Partner Program this year due to difficulties processing the water samples to assess quality. GBA has devoted time and effort to ensuring that timely and helpful safety, health and service-related information has been made available to members. We have collaborated closely with the coastal municipalities, and worked on getting marinas opened up for water access residents. All our communications have emphasized support for all our governments agencies, and their evolving regulations and advisories. It is important that
we all pull together to beat this virus into submission, particularly given the situation south of the border.

Last September we took full advantage of the opportunity to comment on the renewal of what is called the “Canada Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health”. This agreement essentially binds Ontario into the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, on which GBA has participated as advisors and continues to actively comment on progress. With our current Ontario government, we felt that it was particularly important to ensure that they are fully committed to their part in protecting the water quality and ecosystem health of the Great Lakes and hence Georgian Bay. Our wide-ranging submission touched on everything from aquaculture to industries that pollute.

Our efforts to reign in open net pen aquaculture operations in Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron has, in my opinion, been really quite successful. When we met with Ontario’s Ministries of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF), & Environment Conservation & Parks (MECP) and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) at two lengthy sessions earlier this year, it highlighted for me just how well GBA has done over the ~23 years that we have been battling to ensure that this industry does not damage our fragile ecosystem.

Although the operations have still not been moved into enclosed facilities, and therefore continue to pose a threat to water quality and wild fish, here are some highlights of what GBA has achieved through various pressures for improvements and changes:

  • A third facility at Lake Wolsey is closed due to pollution and is just awaiting the removal of the last of its nets before its license is cancelled. We have been pushing for its closure for many years due to repeated blue green algae outbreaks.
  • This leaves only 5 remaining private operations and 5 (mainly small) First Nation operations. This industry has scarcely grown over the years, despite their substantive efforts to promote growth – we are sure that GBA advocacy is responsible for that.
  • This year the renewal of the previous 5-year licenses for 20 years has been deferred for 2 years to allow for a more robust environmental assessment process, due, we believe, to our ongoing input.

Well done Claudette and her team!

Out of the blue TCEnergy (which owns TransCanada pipelines etc.) announced a pumped storage project at the Department of National Defense base at Meaford. The plan is to pump up water at low, off-peak, energy costs into a manmade lake, that bites into the Niagara Escarpment, and then discharge it into the Bay at high-priced, peak, energy rates. Although located across the other side of Georgian Bay, this would be the largest civil engineering project on the Bay that GBA has ever had to address, and has the potential to cause extensive environmental damage, particularly to fish and other aquatic biota. Since we have been requesting a rethink, and commenting on the potential repercussions of this massive structure (it would have a daily flow rate in both directions equivalent to 42% of the flow rate over Niagara Falls), TCE has completely redesigned the project to greatly reduce the potential harm. They have confirmed that this was due to significant local community input, which has included GBA efforts. Discussions on our outstanding concerns are ongoing.

Last, but by no means least, has been a review of our advocacy strategy to address what can, practically, be done to mitigate our current extreme high and likely future extreme low water levels. The Great Lakes system and the factors that influence our water levels are complex. Now they appear to be subject to significant climate change impacts that are making matters even more complicated. Man has interfered in the natural flows at numerous points, and put in place an uncoordinated, hodgepodge series of control structures and regimes governing water in, out and through the system. With nothing governing water out of Lake Michigan-Huron, we are vulnerable to what happens at these control points. In order to do the best we possibly can to mitigate extreme highs and lows, there needs to be complete coordination of these human interferences. This is what we are calling for. To this end we have convened a public web-based symposium jointly with Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) of senior scientists and decision makers this fall to: firstly, make sure we fully understand what is going on in the system and the accuracy & completeness of the current data, and, secondly, to start a conversation on better coordination between the control boards and other control structures to do the best we can to mitigate extreme high, and future extreme low, water levels. Although adjustments really only tweak what mother nature throws at us – a few inches here and there can make a difference and we need to do better. We will therefore also support short term measures to reduce Lake Michigan-Huron water levels.

Please register for this event on the GBA website – we now have about 400 registrants and have confirmations from 100% of our A list of excellent speakers. Minister Jonathan Wilkinson of ECCC will open the symposium and Pierre Beland, Canadian Chair of the IJC will open the afternoon session. Full details of all the speakers will be posted on the GBA website over the next few days.

Many of the matters we deal with take many years of concerted effort, others should be short term, but often take longer.

For instance:

  • We are still pushing for the release of the fire investigation report into the 2018 Henvey Inlet fire.
  • The battle to try and stop a trailer park going ahead at Macey Bay included a detailed GBA submission last year on their proposed destruction of endangered species habitat, and ongoing work is expected through the coming year.

Many, more general, planning matters we know are going to require ongoing monitoring and input, such as:

  • High density shoreline developments in the southern end of the Bay trying to be cheap with their proposed sewage systems pose a major threat to water quality;
  • long term stays by visitors to small islands with insufficient sewage capacity, who stay on their boats, sometimes at mooring buoys;
  • continuous pressure to develop undersized islands;
  • siting new docks over sensitive aquatic environments in contravention of the rules; and
  • shoreline and site alterations to protect against high water or to build a golf course.

We have many collaborative projects, such as:

  • Getting Canada’s regulations on reducing boat noise in line with the US and Europe – SQL;
  • Banning dock foam from new dock construction or repairs – GBF;
  • Working with the coastal municipalities on:
  • Best practices for planning regulations and management;
  • How to help homeowners manage and maintain their septic systems through
  • education, the optimum municipal inspection programs, and addressing
  • flooding from high water levels; and
  • Dealing with the tightening up of Ontario’s waste collection regulations.

Sometimes work done many years ago comes home to roost, such as the recent move forward by Transport Canada to start the process of introducing more robust ballast water regulations. We expect this will further reduce the potential for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes via the freighters. Rather to our surprise we received quite a lot of media attention for our position opposing the cormorant hunt, including a live CBC radio interview I gave recently, which you can also find on our website if you are interested in that issue.

[Last year we asked the Ontario government to properly protect the interests of all stakeholders regarding the Wiiky interim land settlement, by filing a Part II order under the Environmental Assessment process, while confirming our support for the settlement itself, and continuing to build a strong relationship with the Wiiky. This file went very quiet following the COVID-19 outbreak, but we have had some constructive discussions with the Wiiky recently. Not so much on the government side, as Bill 197 retroactively cancelled our Part II Order. You have to give your head a shake when a government starts introducing retroactive legislation.]

Next year will see a continuation of work on many of the matters raised above, particularly aquaculture, TCEnergy and of course, arguably the most important of all – water levels and the potential spin off impacts on water quality.

It is always helpful to receive ideas from members on any other issues that we should be addressing, so please know that our door is always open for suggestions and recommendations.

Finally, I would like to thank all the volunteers who contribute so much to GBA efforts – without you we could not do what we do. Thank you one and all.