Water Quality

What is the cause of elevated E. coli counts and water quality to Bayfield beaches?

  • Elevated counts of .coli have been measured at the main Bayfield beach while the Howard St beach has shown a marked decrease in E. coli (since sewers?).  E. coli is one marker that gives an indication of water quality. Others measures may include, but not exclusively, torpidity, nitrates and phosphates.
  • The beaches are monitored by the Huron County health unit throughout the warm months and have been for many years.  Data is available on line at www.huroncounty.ca/health/beach
  • The standard of 200 ppm is the most stringent guideline in Ontario
  • The Bayfield beaches consistently score well against other beaches along the Huron coastline.  That being said, there is a problem.

Causes in no particular order

  • Agricultural runoff.  This is exasperated by the massive growth in field tiling without proper treatment (e.g. lagoons) at the outflow before it reaches the river.  It should be noted that field runoff from liquid manure has been reduced since the Environmental Farm Plan was introduced.
  • Septic Maintenance   While Bayfield has moved to a central sewage system, there are pockets of seasonal residential areas that have poor inadequate sewage treatment.
  • Large homes on small properties have been approved along the shoreline with maximum access to water and minimum treatment of waste.
  • Sewage Treatment Plants  The river carries the outflow of the Bayfield, Clinton, Seaforth and Vanastra. There are occasions where “controlled discharges” are permitted. These carry untreated or poorly treated waste directly to the river.  If the river is low (mid to late summer) the outflow represents a large portion of the “water” in the river carrying undesirables (E. coli, phosphates etc.) to the lake.
  • Wild animals  Geese and gulls feed on the “garbage from the fields about and carry their poo to the beach.  Deer etc. are a consequence of nature.
  • Acid rain  The air quality measured at Grand Bend is lowest on Environment Canada’s scale. This results from a constant flow from Texas, Ohio over  Sarnia all heavy polluting areas.
  • Domestic Animals  Pet owners leave the droppings to be washed into the Bayfield ditches that drain directly to the beach from untreated storm drains.
  • Storm Drains   All road runoff, lawn fertilizers, pesticides, etc. move directly to the beach untreated.
  • Drugs  Human and animal medications have been detected in the drinking water.  These pass thru the body enter the sewage system, our beaches and are returned untreated to the drinking water.  Detectable levels of pesticides are found in both well and municipal water.
  • Boaters  Boat cleaning and waste discharges.
  • Shoreline Management  Property owners are not aware of the need for proper vegetation along the shoreline.  It is not uncommon to have vegetation that protects water quality removed for visual pleasure and comfort.
  • Chemicals  Improper storage and disposal often has hazardless chemical leach into the soil and into beach water.
  • Water Sports.  75% of the fuel in Seadoo is unburned and enters the water.
  • Lawn and Garden Maintenance   Gas lawn mowers, blowers etc. emit 40 times more pollutants into the atmosphere than a late model car.  These emissions become part of the landscape and enter the water.
  • Industrial Traffic  While minimal today, historically freighters discharged their waste in to the great lakes. Wind currents, warmer waters etc. move this to eastern shoreline.
  • Global Warming.  Water along the shoreline is warming and “flipping”.  When this occurs, sludge from the bottom moves to the surface.  This slug contains stores of E. coli, nitrates and other toxins.  This phenomena helps explain the algae blooms.
  • Dredging   The dredging of the harbour has a number of negative impacts on water quality (see global warming).
  • Wind current  The degree of “pollution” varies with the direction of the wind.  A south-west wind drives pools of undesirable river runoff towards the Bayfield beaches.
  • History  During settlement of the area, trees were cleared, river buffer strips removed and 98% of the wetlands were destroyed.  The established standard for tree coverage is 25%+.  The Bayfield river varies from 2% in the headwaters to 18% + or – in the Bayfield area.  Trees are vital to the health of a watershed as they retain water, reduce runoff, absorb toxins, cool waters.  If water were less prone to rush down the river during rains and winters end, nature would have a better chance to improve water quality.
  • Drainage ditches  The region is full of drain ditches that link to streams.  They are linked to streams that move in time to the lake.  These ditches are “straight line” and do not have the effectiveness of a stream in protecting water and its habitat.
  • Street Ditches  Grasses in the ditches can absorb toxins. However it is practice to mow and clear ditches to let water flow.
  • If wetlands were restored, nature’s filtration system could markedly improve water quality.
  • People  We demand and receive cheap food.  The environmental cost of food production is not factored into the cost of production.  If farmers were appropriately compensated and legislation was in place, agricultural concerns would be minimized.  It is a consumer issue.
  • Litter  We think of paper etc. when considering litter.  FOBR has spent many hours cleaning the river and beaches.  Hazardous materials are common finds during cleanup.
  • Imports.  Globalism has brought many “foreign” creatures to our shores.  Some of these are having a negative impact on beach water quality.
  • Food Choice  If we were all vegetarians…………..
  • It is a consumer issue

So What? 

  • All the testing in the world will not disclose information that is not already known.  The University of Guelph has stated that DNA testing to determine the exact source of E. coli is currently a weak and unreliable science. At best they predict that it will be 70% accurate.
  • Invest in known solutions.  Tree planting, wetland restoration, regulations re tiling, cosmetic pesticide bylaws,  stiffer building codes, mandatory septic inspection, ban plastic bags, bylaws that protect shorelines, improve treatment plants, educate re that hazards of toxins, appropriate grasses, native plants,  etc. etc.
  • Friends of the Bayfield River has generated over $100,000 that has gone towards solutions.
  • Huron County has committed thousands of dollars to water protection that has generated a 10 fold return to date in action to improve water quality.