Cyanobacteria Bloom in Lake Erie – an EcoJustice Report

View of the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie from space (NASA)

In the early fall of 2011, the Vermilion River had a Cyanobacteria outbreak that affected several interconnected lakes, and lasted until the heavy rains came in late October.   This outbreak was extremely disturbing to local residents who use water from the Vermilion for their daily household needs, and also for those who use the river for swimming and fishing.   Cyanobacteria can be highly toxic and poses a life threat to people and animals.

The long warm summer and fall season most likely was a big part of the problem, however, the nine sewage treatment plants dumping treated, and sometimes partially or untreated effluent into the Vermilion River Watershed might also be fueling the problem.   A 2009 EcoJustice Report pointed out the City of Sudbury as the fourth highest City in Ontario for dumping partially treated and untreated waste water effluent into the environment.   Since then the City of Sudbury Waste Water Treatment staff have made an exerted effort to improve their record, and we thank them for that.  However, it is now up to the City and taxpayers to step up to the plate and ensure that tax dollars are invested in upgrades to our local Waste Water Treatment Facilities to include tertiary treatment – a third level of treatment in the process.  Also City storm water must drain into storm water holding areas instead of being released directly into the Vermilion River system.

As you can see by the above picture, cyanobacteria is also becoming a major problem in the Great Lakes, because of global warming.  This is causing warmer water temperatures, and heavy rains which can overwhelm waste water treatment facilities, washing effluent and fertilizers, etc., into our watersheds, and ultimately into the Great Lakes.  Please check out the EcoJustice website which has an excellent article addressing this problem.   Click here to go to the article.

Lively/Walden Waste Water Treatment Facilities undergoing a Class “C” Environmental Assessment

The Lively/Walden Waste Water Treatment Facilities are in Phase 3 of a Class “C” Environmental Assessment, and Consultants are very close to taking their preferred plan to City Council for their approval.   I was asked to make a presentation to the Lake Advisory Panel on October 13, 2011, and I have included my presentation for your information.

New Energy Costs Will Be Much Higher Than Anticipated – New Study Says

Posted October 18, 2011

Guelph – The cost of providing wind and solar energy in Ontario will be about 40 per cent higher than government estimates, according to a new study co-authored by a University of Guelph agricultural economist.

The study, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Bulletin of Science and Society and is available online now, looks at the impacts of wind and solar directives in the provincial Green Energy and Economy Act. Adopted in May 2009, the act formed the framework for Ontario’s 2010 Long-Term Energy Plan.

“We found that there were omitted costs and inflated benefits,” said Glenn Fox, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics. He conducted the study with Parker Gallant, a retired banker.

“As a result, the rate increases that are predicted in the Long Term Energy Plan are substantially lower than those that Ontarians will in fact face,” Fox said.

Government estimates for the LTEP predict that electricity bills will rise by 46 per cent by 2015 and 100 per cent by 2030.

But the study found people can expect to see increases closer to 65 per cent and 141 per cent, respectively.

“This would have Ontarions paying some of the highest costs of electricity in the developed world,” Fox said. “These higher costs would erode the competitiveness of businesses in Ontario and pose particular challenges for low income households.”

Among costs omitted from government forecasts are costs of inflation, transmitting electricity to the grid from wind and solar facilities, additional costs of surplus electricity export subsidies, and backup generation against potential disruptions.

“Solar and wind power are unpredictable,” Fox said. “Solar power underperforms when there is cloud cover, and wind power underperforms when the wind isn’t blowing.”

The study says 9,600 megawatts of backup power will be required by 2030 to support 10,700 megawatts of renewable energy.

“Ironically, the backup will be fossil fuels and natural gas, negating the prime rationale,” Fox said.

The study also questions government calculations for wind and solar operating capacity, and highlights exclusions for export issues, revenue and conservation efforts. Total costs omitted in the province’s LTEP are $60.94 per megawatt-hour, which would raise power bills about 40 per cent above government forecasts.

As well, the report says creating 50,000 new wind and solar energy jobs as promised in the Green Energy Act will require ratepayer subsidies of about $200,000 a year for each position.

“The theory is that, if new industries that are not competitive are subsidized, they will eventually mature and be able to function on their own,” Fox said. “The problem with that theory is that some kids never grow up and leave home.”

Blue Green Algae on the Vermilion River System

It is time to recognize that the cumulative effects of dumping effluent from 9 waste water treatment plants into the Vermilion River Watershed is having dangerous effects on the Vermilion River and its connecting lakes.  Cyanobacteria, or Blue Green Algae, has been reported all the way from Simon Lake, McCharles Lake, into the Vermilion River system, and as far down as Wabagishik Lake.  Many citizens rely on the Vermilion River for their drinking water, for bathing, food preparation, and it has been very costly and frightening.  Cyanobacteria produce toxins that are at least a nuisance, but at their worst are life threatening to people, pets and wildlife.

There are currently 4 proposals for hydroelectric dams going through the Environmental Assessment (EA) process, and Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario, states in his 2007/8 Annual Report that “the EA process is broken, and there is no possibility of a no outcome”.   The EA process is a developer- led process, and developers are placed in charge of deciding what the public should and shouldn’t know, how they are going to conduct their field studies, and how much environmental flow will be left in the river.    There is a huge incentive for the developer to wring every possible drop out of the river to earn that 50% peaking bonus.  Our government has virtually put the fox in charge of the Chicken Koop.

These types of dams will hold water back for up to 48 hours to produce power during peak demand hours at a 50% bonus to the developer, and are purported to produce Green Energy, but in fact produce “Dirty Energy”.  There are numerous studies to back up this claim, including ones by Health Canada and MNR.  Water levels and flow have been so low these last few summers that it is hard to imagine how a developer could make money producing energy on these rivers, and they actually couldn’t without the peaking bonus offered by the FIT Program.

We are already having trouble with Cyanobacteria on the Vermilion River without these dams.  But what will happen when river water has been sitting in a head pond for up to 48 hours, has an opportunity to warm in the sun for a few days, and has the additional loading of 5 upstream waste water treatment facilities pumping their effluent into this upper arm of the Vermilion River?     And then, this water blends with the additional 4 waste water plants pumping effluent from the Simon Lake end of the Vermilion River Watershed.

For the protection of its citizens, Sudbury City Council must ensure these dams are not built!    There are 13,000 people alone receiving water from the Vale Public Water Intake on this upper arm of the Vermilion, not to mention the people living along the Vermilion River system who rely on this water for their daily needs.

Sudbury must also take positive steps, in a timely fashion, towards ensuring that all nine of their Waste Water Treatment Facilities are equipped with tertiary treatment – primary and secondary treatment is no longer adequate with Climate Change now upon us.

We must ensure healthy river systems and clean water for our future generations.

Linda Heron

Chair, Vermilion River Stewardship

“Community Supporting a Healthy, Natural and Sustainable River System”

Mercury Pollution in the Great Lakes Region: Nearly Forgotten, but Not Gone

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2011) — The scope and intensity of mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region is much greater than previously reported, but additional mercury controls should bring needed improvement, according to a new summary of scientific research on the subject.

Despite general declines in mercury levels in the Great Lakes region over the past four decades, mercury concentrations still exceed human and ecological risk thresholds, especially in inland lakes and rivers, according to the report Great Lakes Mercury Connections: The Extent and Effects of Mercury Pollution in the Great Lakes Region, published in Springer’s journal Ecotoxicology. Also, new research indicates that for some species of fish and wildlife in particular areas, mercury concentrations may again be on the rise.

While the risk of elevated mercury concentrations to human health is well known — all of the Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario issued fish consumption advisories due to high mercury — new studies cited in the report suggest that adverse effects of mercury on the health of fish and wildlife occur at levels much lower than previously reported.

“The good news is that efforts to control mercury pollution have been very beneficial,” says David C. Evers, Ph.D., executive director and chief scientist at Biodiversity Research Institute, and the principal investigator in the Great Lakes study. “However, as we broaden our investigations, we find that fish and wildlife are affected at lower mercury concentrations and across larger areas, and that impacts can be quite serious. For example, we found that estimated mercury concentrations in the blood of common loons were above levels that are associated with at least 22 percent fewer fledged young in large areas of the Great Lakes study region.”

The report represents the work of more than 170 scientists, researchers, and resource managers who used more than 300,000 mercury measurements to document the impact and trends of mercury pollution on the Great Lakes region.

A collaboration of the Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine, the Great Lakes Commission based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the project is the product of a binational, scientific synthesis sponsored by the Commission through its Great Lakes Air Deposition Program, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The research details how mercury pollution is changing over time. “When we analyzed lake sediments, we were surprised to see such a strong connection between mercury loadings to the region and mercury emissions in the region,” says Charles Driscoll, Ph.D., University Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at Syracuse University and co-principal investigator on the project. “We documented a 20 percent decline in sediment mercury deposition from peak values around 1985. This decline was concurrent with a 48 percent decline in mercury emissions from sources in the Great Lakes region and a 17 percent increase in global emissions, clearly illustrating the benefit of controlling domestic emissions. It is likely that additional national and regional air emission controls would result in further declines in mercury contamination of the Great Lakes region as well as other areas of the U.S. and Canada.” Among other findings, the report points out that the northern reaches of the Great Lakes region are particularly sensitive to mercury and that, despite improvements, fish mercury concentrations remain above the EPA human health criterion in these sensitive areas.

“The decline in mercury contamination of fishery resources across much of the Great Lakes region is very welcome news,” says James G. Wiener, Ph.D., Wisconsin Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and co-principal investigator in the study. “However, the fish in many of the region’s inland lakes and rivers exceed important human and environmental health thresholds. For instance, we looked at six commonly eaten game fish and found that average mercury concentrations in these fishes exceeded the EPA human health criterion in 61 percent of the study region.” Dr. Wiener further noted that some long-term mercury trends appear to be changing. “The observations of recent increases in mercury concentrations in some fish and wildlife populations in the region is also cause for concern, because we do not understand why these increases are occurring.”

Atmospheric emissions are the primary source of mercury deposition in the Great Lakes basin; the report projects that further controls on those emissions “are expected to lower mercury concentrations in the food web, yielding multiple benefits to fish, wildlife, and people in the Great Lakes region.”

and intensity of mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region is much greater than previously reported, but additional mercury controls should bring needed improvement, according to a new summary of scientific research on the subject.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Springer Science+Business Media, via AlphaGalileo.

Journal Reference:

  1. David C. Evers, James G. Wiener, Niladri Basu, R. A. Bodaly, Heather A. Morrison, Kathryn A. Williams. Mercury in the Great Lakes region: bioaccumulation, spatiotemporal patterns, ecological risks, and policy. Ecotoxicology, 2011; 20 (7): 1487 DOI: 10.1007/s10646-011-0784-0

Springer Science+Business Media (2011, October 12). Mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region: Nearly forgotten, but not gone. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/10/111011112308.htm

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.


Blue Green Algae Outbreak on the Vermilion River

On September 30, 2011, it was reported that green blobs of something that looked suspiciously like Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as Blue Green Algae, was seen floating on the Vermilion River.  A few days later the Ministry of Environment confirmed our suspicions.    In an attempt to find the source of this outbreak the writer visited Centennial Park to observe the conditions on the northern arm of the Vermilion, and that water looked quite clear, however, upon visiting Mud Lake, Kelly Lake, Simon Lake and McCharles Lakes, the Blue Green Algae was also observed in Simon and McCharles Lakes.   MOE has subsequently confirmed the outbreak on McCharles, however, based on a picture sent to the officer, he chose not to take a sample on Simon Lake – and it was the Friday before the long weekend after all.   However, it was reported that a dead goose was found on the public beach next to the sighting, and there were also reports of dead suckers found floating on Simon.   It is not surprising to hear that residents further downstream, on Wabagishik Lake, are also reporting the presence of this blue green scum there as well.  MOE has not been called out to take a sample there, and so it is not confirmed.

Blue Green Algae blooms, can be highly toxic to people, pets and wildlife, so precautions must be taken.  To learn more about how this will affect those people using river water for drinking, swimming, washing, or even eating fish from the river, then you will find some excellent information at Sudbury and District Health Department, and/or Health Canada.    Ministry of the Environment also has an excellent pamphlet Blue-green Algae – Information for Cottagers and Home Owners to round out your knowledge on this subject.

You can also check out this excellent slide presentation made by Charles Ramcharan, of Laurentian University’s Fresh Water Ecology Unit, at our Stewardship meeting held on Tuesday, 11 October 2011.

Charles Ramcharan’s Presentation on Cyanobacteria
(click on “Expand” below to view):

Cyanobacteria - Blue Green Algae Bloom found on Vermilion River

Cyanobacteria - Blue Green Algae - Found on Simon Lake

Gas Fired Cogeneration

A Toronto-based power company is proposing to build a gas-fired cogeneration plant at Redpath Sugar on its 4.25-hectare industrial site in the heart of the city’s newly revitalized waterfront.

The 45-megawatt facility would generate enough power to supply 36,000 homes with electricity when operating at full capacity, which amounts to about 5 per cent of Toronto Hydro’s 700,000 customers.  For more information on this proposal check out:  “Sand, Sun — and Smokestacks”.

Pumped Storage

During high demand periods, electricity is produced by using the water flow from the upper to the lower storage reservoir.  When demand is low and electricity prices are lower, the water is pumped back up.   For more information on pumped storage, check out this article “Mining for Megawatts in Mamora”.