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Greater Sudbury City Council unanimously passes motion in support of watershed studies

Water stewards call it a big step forward

by Naomi Grant

Watershed studies provide essential information to protect water quality (photo by Naomi Grant)
Watershed studies provide essential information to protect water quality (photo by Naomi Grant)

There was applause at City Hall May 14, as Council voted unanimously to make watershed studies a priority and get to work on them right away.  Around sixty people were in Council chambers to show their support for the motion brought forward by Councillor Terry Kett.  Mayor Marianne Matichuk said it was “a really good project for the city,” and “really, really important.”  “It’s about time,” said Councillor Joscelyne Landry-Altmann.  Many Councillors talked about how Greater Sudbury promoted itself as a City of Lakes, but needed to do more to protect water.  “We keep saying we care about our lakes.  We have to walk the walk,” declared Councillor Frances Caldarelli.  “I would say yes, yes and yes to this motion,” she declared.  Every Councillor spoke positively to the motion.  Councillor Jacques Barbeau said it was “a pleasant surprise to see this support around the table.”

Despite having over 300 lakes and several important rivers, Greater Sudbury has yet to complete a single watershed study.  Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury and water stewards for urban lakes, such as the Ramsey Lake Stewardship Committee, have consistently advocated for the need for watershed studies to be completed before development decisions are made.  In February, the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance passed a motion encouraging council to enact an interim control by-law on development in watersheds until watershed studies have been completed.  “It is going to help us in a lot of ways,” said Caldarelli, adding it will allow Council to “take a comprehensive look at development, look at the totality and understand the impacts.”  She hoped it will be “another lens that planning uses for every application.” 

Concerns over water quality have been a recurring concern when it comes to development applications.  Councillor Joe Cimino explained that watershed studies will “tell us what development is okay.”  “We need to know,” he reiterated.  Kett said that developers also wanted greater certainty and less risk of appeals, and thanked several developers by name for their input, including the largest local developer, Dalron.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, in their stormwater management design guidelines, includes watershed studies as an essential part of stormwater management.  Watershed studies are needed to “protect water quality and protect residents from flooding,” explained Kett.  Local experts such as Dr. Gunn and Dr. Pearson have publicly stated that local conditions and the impacts of climate change make it even more imperative to be proactive in protecting water quality. 

An increasing numbers of beach closures, blue-green algae blooms and other serious problems have heightened public concern.  “People want to enjoy our waters and have safe drinking water,” expressed Kett.  Many Councillors referred to the public input they had received on the motion.  “I have received so many really thoughtful e-mails from people all over the city,” said Caldarelli.  “People are really concerned about our lakes.”  Councillor Dave Kilgour gave “congratulations to the many people who got in touch with us,” characterizing the input as professional and positive.  He added that Greater Sudbury was lucky to have many local groups interested in the entire ecology of the city.  Kett singled out a joint letter from water stewards and other environmental groups, thanking each group by name.

“Lakes are treasures and important resources for all our peoples,” said Councillor Evelyn Dutrisac, echoing similar statements around the Council table.  Landry-Altmann proposed going further, asking for “an evaluation of what is the value of our lakes.”  She cited work by Credit Valley Conservation which assessed natural capital and the value of ecological services provided.  “Current accounting systems don’t account for nature,” she explained, saying we can’t “keep making withdrawals as if there’s no tomorrow.”   Fear of losing these many values was a recurring theme.  “It takes very little to destroy a lake, but a lot to get it back” said Matichuk.

Council was eager to see watershed studies started immediately.  Caldarelli was concerned that the motion mentioned the 2014 budget.  “We should be starting right away,” she said.  Councillor Claude Berthiaume said that the city “should look for funding to do this study immediately.”  “Council has to make this a priority and act now,” echoed Belli, adding that further delays could result in some developments being put on “the back burner.”  Kett explained that much of the work had already been done.  “It needs to be brought together, and fill in the gaps,” he said.  He explained he had met with planning staff and Tony Cecutti, general manager of infrastructure services, and staff was confident it could get done. 

Citizens and local groups applauded the motion, and will be watching for it to be implemented in a timely fashion.  It is still unclear how and when implementation will move forward, and what resources will be allocated, whether as budget options in the 2014 municipal budget or within existing budgets.  Priorities also need to be set in regards to which watershed and subwatershed studies are completed first.  The Official Plan lists subwatershed studies in order of priority, but this may be adjusted according to current circumstances and the results of an upcoming lake capacity study.  Councillors cited a number of factors influencing their own priorities.  Drinking water sources were cited several times, but small lakes, and lakes and waterways with sewage treatment plants were also mentioned.  It is expected that Ramsey Lake will be the first priority as a major drinking water source that is experiencing high levels of development pressure.  However, Barbeau reitereated, “we are interested in protecting all the lakes.”  Cimino added that it is not only human interests that are important.  “The different species are fragile.  We need to protect them,” he said.

Water stewards say this is an important step forward for the City.  However, there is more to be done.  Landry-Altmann suggested the city should be looking at something similar to the Lake Simcoe Protection Act for Lakes Ramsey and Wanapitei.  “This is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Cimino.

Naomi Grant chairs Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury

======

The motion reads:

 

Sub Watershed Studies  As presented by Councillor Kett:

WHEREAS there is concern and uncertainty about the cumulative effects of stormwater on our area lakes;

AND WHEREAS the impact of any proposed development near area lakes must be properly quantified and addressed in the light of the other proposed developments in a watershed and not considered as individual developments as presently occurs;

AND WHEREAS this type of development must be considered as one of many contributors to phosphorus, salt and pollution in a watershed;

AND WHEREAS sub watershed studies are required in order to make an informed decision on any development application within a watershed;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the necessary sub watershed studies be included in council’s priorities and that staff be directed to immediately begin these studies and to prepare the necessary budget options for the 2014 budget.

 

 


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Naomi Grant (Naomi Grant)
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