Cash needed to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie
London wants to do its part to clean up Lake Erie, but it’s going to need some government cash to make it happen fast.
A new plan aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus that flows into the Thames River, and eventually Lake Erie, will head to committee next week.
So why should Londoners care?
Apart from the environmental concern, half the city’s drinking water comes from Lake Erie.
And the phosphorus that leaches into the lake — much of it from urban sewage waste and farm runoff — leads to toxic algae blooms that suck the oxygen out of the water. The Thames River is the biggest Canadian source of phosphorus entering Lake Erie.
Algae blooms wreaked such havoc in 2014 that half a million people in Toledo, Ohio, were without water.
Some tasks the city can take on right away, if politicians give the green light, but part of the plan would require help from the province or federal government.
The work — upgrading sewers and collecting sludge at waste water treatment plants — isn’t glamorous, but it targets the main city sources of phosphorus.
“London wants to be part of the solution,” Scott Mathers, the city’s director of water and wastewater, said. “These are actions that will move us forward.”
The plan includes:
- A new pilot project to pull more phosphorus out of water that’s treated at wastewater plants.
- A push to swap 80 per cent of the city’s “combined” sewage system with separate storm and sanitary sewers. That protects the system from overflows caused by heavy rainfall.
- Water quality monitoring with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
- Projects such as rain gardens that reduce the impact of runoff near residential, retail, or commercial buildings.
The city already has reduced the phosphorus heading to the river from its wastewater treatment plants by about 25 per cent since 2008. Government funding could bring that number to 75 per cent, according to a staff report.
Coun. Stephen Turner said those figures were heartening.
“There’s a joint responsibility,” he said of a multi-government effort to clean up Lake Erie. “We need to keep going and make sure what we’re putting into the Thames River is as clean as it can be.”
But it would take tens of millions in government cash to fulfil all of the proposed plans, Mathers said.
Ashley Wallis, water program manager with the Environment Defense, a Toronto-based non-profit, said governments have to weigh the benefits of funding municipal projects with the demand for agricultural programs, since most phosphorus in Lake Erie comes from farm runoff.
But she said plans like London’s are a crucial piece of the puzzle.
“There isn’t going to be one silver bullet solution where we’re immediately going to see a healthy lake,” she said. “It’s going to take the actions of municipalities, and many actions scattered across the agricultural landscape to see the kind of change we need.”