Lake and Basin Sustainability (COA Annex 3)
Table of Contents
Agricultural land management and water quality data evaluation in representative agricultural watersheds in the Grand River and Thames River basins
Collaborators: Soil Resource Group, Grand River and Upper Thames River Conservation Authorities, University of Guelph, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Farmers
Project Contact: Don King (519) 341-2176
Agricultural watershed contributions to the nutrient loading of the Great Lakes was monitored during the mid 1970's under the PLUARG study and found to be significant. Since that time, considerable changes have occurred in agricultural land use and management practices, and the availability of public funds for education and remedial practices for non-point source pollution control. This study was initiated in order to monitor agricultural land use changes and associated water quality in representative agricultural watersheds in southern Ontario. Two small agricultural watersheds monitored in earlier studies, the Canagagigue Creek Watershed (near Elmira), and the Nissouri Creek Watershed (near Embro) were instrumented and monitored over a two year period for discharge, as well as sediment, nutrient, and pathogen concentrations. Changes in agricultural land use, management practices, and water quality concentrations and loadings were compared to data collected from 1975 to 1977.
Average annual loadings and concentrations of nitrate-N (NO3-N), total phosphorus, and soluble phosphorus (SP) were observed to be higher in both watersheds, than was found in the 1970's. Comparatively sediment loads were observed to be higher in the Nissouri than in the 1970's, but lower in the Canagagigue. Escherichia coli concentrations were found to be over the Ministry of Environment recreational water guidelines (100cfu/100ml) on over 90 percent of sampling days in the Canagagigue Watershed and over 80 percent of sampling days in the Nissouri Watershed. Both watersheds showed increased livestock density and an increased percentage of land used for row crops. Tile drained land also increased within the Canagagigue Watershed, and over 90 percent of agricultural land within both watersheds is now tiled. Extensive uptake of programs which promote improved management practices, such as Environmental Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Strategies/Plans, was reported in both watersheds.
Despite the uptake of management programs and the availability of education and funding opportunities for operators, complimentary improvement in stream water quality was not observed. Nutrient loadings were higher than those observed in the 1970's, most notably the concentrations and loadings of soluble nutrients (NO3-N and SP). Changes in agricultural land use and management practices which could be associated with increased loading of soluble nutrients include increased row crop area, increased livestock nutrient units as well as greater acreages of tile drainage.
Collaborators: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)
Project Contact: Stewart Sweeney (519) 826-4478
Accurate maps of field crops and tillage management systems in Ontario's agricultural landscape for specific cropping seasons provide valuable information for both production and environmental management programs. They are essential components of watershed-specific, comprehensive agricultural resource inventory (AgRI) information that aids OMAFRA in its Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) commitments, particularly for evaluating non-point source pollutant reductions associated with various farm management practices.
The AgRI mapping project has provided an extensive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) digital polygon framework and corresponding database for field-specific cropping and tillage system information. A number of watersheds were the core regions of focus for this AgRI mapping work including the Fairchild Creek Watershed (a tributary of the Grand River), Rondeau Bay Watershed (on the coast of the Lake Erie basin) and coastal watersheds in central Huron County (between the Bayfield and Maitland Rivers) in the Lake Huron Basin.
Detailed, seamless digital polygon frameworks for the rural landscape in these regions were developed. High resolution orthoimagery (30cm pixels) from the 2006 Southwestern Ontario Orthoimagery Project (SWOOP 2006) was used as the base for this manual digitization effort. Individual polygons were developed for all farmsteads, farm fields, roadways, ditches, rough land areas and riparian areas within the study regions. A GIS data model was developed to incorporate crop (crop type, planting direction, row spacing, etc.) and tillage (type: conventional, conservation, no-till; direction, etc.) information. Field mapping with "windshield" observations from all public-access roadways in these study regions was conducted for the 2008 and 2009 cropping seasons, and the data was then entered into the AgRI GIS database.
Data provided "ground truth" calibration for the AgRI remote sensing methods development project. Data was also used as the input for the Water Erosion Prediction Project (ArcGeoWEPP) model to produce maps of soil loss under current management practices in the Rondeau Bay watershed.
Best Management Practices for the Ontario Greenhouse and Container Nursery Industry to Protect Surface and Subsurface Water Quality
Collaborators: The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance, Flowers Canada - Ontario, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Aqua Treatment Technologies, Pyramid Farms, Soil Resource Group, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Numerous grower co-operators and industry representatives
Project Contact: Donna Speranzini (905) 562-1170
Ontario's greenhouse and container nursery industry includes over 2,500 operations, with over 21,000 hectares of production within the Great Lakes Basin. This industry requires the use of large quantities of nutrients to produce the quality products consumers' demand. The industry is aware of the potential impact nutrients can have on surface and subsurface water sources and is committed to the continuous improvement of water and nutrient management in their operations.
This project focused on demonstrating different management options to recycle nutrients and water on-farms and evaluate their potential applicability to greenhouse and container nursery production systems. The goal was to identify best management practices that are simple and cost effective. A total of ten different management systems were evaluated over the course of the project. They included: the installation of a pilot scale vertical flow constructed wetland, the installation of a Vegetated Filter Strip, irrigation onto a Miscanthus crop to close both the energy and nutrient loop on the farm, the installation of a woodchip biofilter, the evaluation of a mature previously installed constructed wetland, the construction and demonstration of a portable constructed wetland, the evaluation of a vegetated swale and two existing Nitrex filters and the possibility of vegetated mats in ponds. Irrigation water runoff entering and exiting the treatment systems were monitored to determine the effectiveness of each system and co-operating growers where surveyed as to the benefits and applicability of each system.
A technical Best Management Practices reference document was developed, along with factsheets regarding performance and applicability data for five different water treatment technologies. The portable constructed wetland will be used for further testing and demonstrations of wetland treatment technologies across the province.
The results of this project have been presented at the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, the Nursery Growers Short Course, and the Essex Associated Growers Convention. Tours of the demonstration sites are on-going and several articles have been written for trade magazines.
Collaborators: Essex Region Conservation Authority, Ministry of the Environment, University of Windsor
Project Contact: Matthew Child (519) 776-5209 ext.368
The Big Creek Watershed is located in the Town of Amherstburg and includes both rural and urban land uses within its drainage area of over 7,000 hectares, Big Creek Marsh is the watershed's largest natural heritage feature, and consists of approximately 900 hectares of Provincially Significant Wetland which has a controlled outlet to Lake Erie. The marsh is a provincially-identified significant life science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), Environmentally Significant Area (ESA), and globally Important Bird Area (IBA).
Alterations to drainage, re-routing of watercourses, as well as clearing of natural features in the Big Creek Watershed since European settlement have resulted in changes in watershed hydrology, reductions in water quality, and diminished ecological function. A number of recent land and resource use activities and applications in the Big Creek Watershed have revealed a need for a watershed plan which can be used to inform decision-makers regarding a variety of local activities and uses.
Various stakeholders in the Big Creek Watershed, including land owners, citizens living in the watershed, the Town of Amherstburg and the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) embarked on the development of a watershed plan as a proactive approach to planning and development activities. The intent in developing a watershed plan was to identify and assess natural resources within the watershed, and to establish strategies for the protection or management of these features and processes under present conditions, and as land use and other changes occur over time. The plan envisions the watershed having the ability to support a diverse agricultural industry, a wide variety of recreational opportunities including hunting, bird watching and other passive uses, with plentiful opportunities for residential growth and other development.
Watershed modelling tools, including Annualized Agricultural Non-point Source Pollution modeling (AnnAgNPS) and Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), were used to complete water quantity, drainage and erosion characterization of the watershed. Limited field surveys were also carried out in order to obtain stream flow and tile drain flow data to be used in modeling. Models represent an understanding of the hydrology and landscape, which can help identify areas contributing larger shares of sediment and nutrient loadings and thus areas to be prioritized for implementing conservation measures.
Collaborators: Maitland Valley Conservation Authority
Project Contact: Mathew Shetler
Knowledge of on-farm activities in Ontario's agricultural landscape is fundamental to understanding and evaluating their connections to tributary stream and Great Lakes shoreline water quality. The headwaters region of the Maitland River has been selected as a test site for a remote sensing methodology to efficiently collect this agricultural resource inventory (AgRI) information. This headwaters project and the results of some previous AgRI digital polygon framework development work by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) will give the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) complete coverage of its territory from the headwaters to the Lake Huron shoreline.
It is anticipated that, when applied, the AgRI remote sensing methods and the ground truth calibration information that has been collected will combine with this new AgRI framework to give a very complete picture of farming within the MVCA. MVCA has programs for water quality monitoring and stewardship that aid in efforts to reduce this region's pollutants including nutrients originating on farms. An understanding of changing farming activities and systems in the MVCA as captured with the aid of remote sensing and the AgRI framework will help target these programs and evaluate their effectiveness.
Development of a Planning Tool for the Restoration of Waterways in Ontario Agricultural Watersheds of the Great Lakes Basin
Collaborators: University of Guelph, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Natural Resources, Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority, Grand River Conservation Authority, Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Water's Edge Environmental Solutions Team Ltd.
Project Contact: Dr. Bahram Gharabaghi (519) 824-4120 ext.58451
The Great Lakes and their tributaries are precious resources which require protection for future generations. To assist in the protection of this resource, the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI) was developed in order to meet Environmental Protection Act water quality targets in the State of Ohio. From an ecological perspective, Ohio and southern Ontario are part of the same ecoregion.
QHEI measures physical stream integrity and habitat quality as the sum of a series of visually assessed measures which consider the integrity of the substrate, in-stream cover, channel morphology, riparian zone and bank erosion, pool and riffle quality and stream gradient. In Ohio, QHEI is used as a planning and design tool for stream assessment and restoration. This study evaluated the applicability of QHEI as a design tool for stream assessments within southern Ontario, particularly agricultural wetlands.
QHEI assessments were made at 50 sites where benthic data was available. High QHEI scores (>67.5) indicate quality streams, whereas low QHEI scores (<52.5) are associated with degraded systems. This study showed that only 7 of the 21 QHEI sub-metrics correlated with % EPT, Hilsenhoff Biotic Index (HBI) and Family Richness Indices. Therefore, predictive regression equations were developed and were used to assist in stream assessment and rehabilitation design processes by optimizing sub-index weights, thus giving a summation for Ontario streams that is better coupled to biological responses.
Approximately 50 percent of the variance in biologic indices was explained by geomorphic stressors within the stream; the other 50 percent might be related to upstream water quality or land use. Refining predictive stressors-and-habitat-versus-biology equations (i.e. by including additional stressor variables) would require further data collection and modeling.
Effect of climate change on soil erosion, soil productivity and drainable water quantity and quality in the Ontario Great Lakes Basin
Collaborators: University of Guelph
Project Contact: Dr. Ramesh Rudra (519) 824-4120 ext.52110
The growing evidence of climate change demonstrates possible increase in temperature and possible decrease in precipitation in the Great Lake Basins in Ontario. The resulting climate changes which could possibly result are shortened winters, elevated annual average temperatures, and heavier rainstorms in summer. This study was conducted in order to analyze possible trends in historical precipitation and temperature data over the last 60 years and to evaluate the trends and effects of climate change on water resources within the Great Lake Basins.
Climatic data for years 2015 to 2044 were generated, using the Canadian Climate Change model's future A2 scenario, to provide a continuous representative future climate dataset to drive selected agricultural non-point source pollution water quality models. These models, using the generated future climate as input, were then used to simulate the future water quantity and quality at field and watershed scales, focusing on soil erosion and nutrient loadings to receiving waters.
Results of historical data analysis show no unique trends for change in rainfall extremes across the province. The change in short duration rainfall extremes is more site specific than that of long duration rainfall extremes. In the southern region of the province, there was up to a 10 per cent increase in extreme rainfall per decade; however, northern region showed approximately 5 per cent increase in extreme rainfall during June and an overall decrease during other months. The annual extreme minimum temperature showed an increasing trend in various regions of the province. The minimum temperature during winter months appears to be increasing however, the maximum temperature during summer months appears to be decreasing. The annual frost free days, when temperatures fall above zero degrees, show an increasing trend across the province.
Results of field and watershed scale modeling using historical data (1970-2000) and the future generated climatic data (2015-2044) reveals the possibility of increased temperatures during both winters and summers in future years. Future simulation results completed at a watershed scale also indicate that evapotranspiration is expected to increase due to climate change, resulting in a reduction in the amount of surface runoff and a possible increase in base flow, resulting in more dependence of stream flow on groundwater contribution.
In addition, summer stream flows are not expected to increase in the future. Future stream flows are expected to have longer low flow periods extending from summer to fall. Severe annual water resources deficiencies may be possible due to increased evapotranspiration. The simulated sediment yield and phosphorus loads demonstrate a decreasing trend similar to surface runoff pattern. A decrease in sediment transport capacity of stream reaches is possible due to elevated deposition of sediment in stream beds, which can reduce the capacity of the stream and may result in increased flooding in stream. The possible increase in base flow contribution to the stream flow will result in elevated in stream nitrate loads. At the field scale, the simulated long-term average results show that evapotranspiration is expected to increase in the future, resulting in a decrease in surface runoff for corn and soybean cropping systems.
An increase in the amount of tile flow is expected during spring period. The phosphorus load at the field scale is likely to follow the surface runoff pattern while the nitrogen load in the tile flow is expected to have a mixed pattern for the various sites for corn and soybean cropping systems. In addition, future simulated tile nitrate loads for the soybean cropping system reveal the importance of nutrient management practices for the crops which need less fertilization during the growing season. The future simulated corn and soybean yields also show a slight increasing pattern.
Results of this study show that, without consideration of land use management, sediment and nutrient contamination may increase in future. Approaches followed in this study indicate that the hydrologic/non-point source pollution models have the potential to evaluate the effect of change in climate characteristics and land use on drainable water quantity and quality at field and watershed scales.
Collaborators: Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Community Based Social marketing (CBSM) has been used internationally as a method for motivating people to adopt sustainable lifestyle practices, such as the use of recycling bins. Changing farmer practices is complex as it often involves the adoption of a system requiring a range of practices rather than discrete behaviours. For this research project, the Innisfil Creek sub-watershed was selected as the sub-watershed is dominated by agricultural land uses (78 percent). The area also experiences water quality issues due to elevated nitrogen and phosphorus (P) concentrations in surface waters. Based on 2006 CANWET modeling, the primary source of P in the sub-watershed derives from cropland, however, a 24 percent projected decrease relative to current conditions in phosphorus loading can be expected with implementation of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP's). The main research objective of this project was increasing the adoption of favourable P-reduction BMP's using a CBSM strategy.
The project methodology included a background literature review, a 'P Experts' meeting, and focus group meetings including equine, cash crop and potato farmers were convened to identify the benefits and barriers of P-reduction BMP's commonly used by the local farming community in Innisfil Creek. From this qualitative data, a list of P-BMP's was ranked according to impact and probability of adoption.
The top ranked BMP's included:
For Cash Crop Farmers
For Potato Farmers
Equine Farm Owners/Managers
Key barriers to adopting the aforementioned BMP's has been due to lack of knowledge (e.g. equine farm owners lack information on how to participate in Environmental Farm Plan), lack of motivation (e.g. low motivation to increase frequency and number of field sites for soil testing), inconvenience (e.g. few programs in place to support installation of windbreaks) and lack of social pressure (e.g. economic sustainability of crop production trumping environmental sustainability of aquatic habitat and water quality).
Focus Group Statistics and Analysis from the 2007 Report: Attitudes of Great Lakes residents and Policy Makers
Collaborators: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Great Lakes United, the Great Lakes United Biodiversity Project
The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs each contributed to the purchase of statistical data on Great Lakes landowners from the Great Lakes United Biodiversity Project and Great Lakes United, the only holders of exclusive rights to the data. The data set includes both raw statistics and analysis and values towards the Great Lakes as well as identification of key audience segments for potential Great Lakes messaging and how best to reach identified key audience segments. OMAFRA will use this data to support the ministry's communications and education and outreach commitments under the 2007-2010 Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA). The purchase was tied to a Memorandum of Understanding Partnership Agreement with Great Lakes United.
Collaborators: Ontario Agri Business Association, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), International Plant Nutrition Institute, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Guelph, Southeast Extension - Research Activity Information Exchange Group 17
Project Contact: Ron Campbell (519) 822-3004
Phosphorus enrichment contributes to excessive algal growth and eutrophication in the Great Lakes Basin. The Ontario Agri Business Association, along with industry, academic and government stakeholders worked together to organize the 'Great Lakes Phosphorus Forum' which took place July 28-31, 2009 in Windsor, Ontario. Representatives from the fields of agronomy, nutrient management, soil science, and water quality gathered together to share relevant information and discuss non-point source phosphorus issues and losses from agricultural land in the Great Lakes Basin.
The conference was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of SERA-17, an information exchange group supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, whose mission is to 'develop and promote innovative solutions to minimize phosphorus losses from agriculture'. This partnership helped bring together over one hundred registrants and twenty one speakers from across North America to share their knowledge of the management of phosphorus, and to discuss research findings and practical experiences with Best Management Practices. The forum also included thirty poster presentations highlighting current projects being conducted by industry, government and university researchers.
A Technical Steering Committee developed a background document identifying five key topic areas covering the full life-cycle of phosphorus in the environment from land application to the impact on the aquatic environment. This document provided an overview of current understanding on each subject area and a list of questions which the speakers were asked to incorporate into their presentations.
A one-day tour of the Essex Region illustrated to participants the nature of the agricultural industry in the area and the agri-environmental management practices involved. This event demonstrated that a single solution to non-point source phosphorus losses from agricultural land is not an option for an issue which varies from region to region and farm to farm.
Over 70 percent of attendees agreed that the forum was successful in bridging the perspectives of land and aquatic scientists and was successful in identifying knowledge gaps. For further information, the presentations and a synthesis of discussion around the questions in the background document are available on the SERA 17 website.
Collaborators: Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, University of Guelph, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Midwest Cover Crop Council
Much of the land in southern Ontario that drains to the Great Lakes is under agricultural production. Agricultural landscapes dominated by row crops like soybeans, corn and vegetables are typically green for only four to six months of the year. Adoption of cover crops for cover and stabilization of the soil surface in the non-crop season would improve overall soil and water quality in the Great Lakes Basin. Year long ground cover through the use of cover crops in the non-crop season is important in preventing intensification of erosion, reducing nutrient losses and pollutant movement and in maintaining cropping system productivity. This project held grower meetings and focus groups in order to raise awareness and enhance knowledge of cover crops through focussed research approaches.
Cover Crops after Soybeans and Residue Removal: Fitting cover crops into cash crop rotations is a challenge and the growing interest in biofuel production from crop residues offers another soil management challenge. In this project long term field trials were initiated in 2008 at the Elora and Centralia Research Stations, University of Guelph to determine the feasibility of cover crop establishment following soybeans and corn with varied levels of residue removal. At the initiation of the trial, benchmark soil samples were taken so that future soil quality effects of long term cover crop use can be assessed. 2008 and 2009 were relatively cold and wet years with delayed soybean and corn harvests. While these conditions resulted in reduced cover crop biomass, preliminary results indicate that cover crops such as fall rye can be successfully established.
Cover Crops after Early Harvested Vegetables: One of the potential environmental benefits of cover crops, besides minimizing soil erosion, is their ability to trap nitrogen (N) in the fall that could be leached overwinter. However, there is little information on the N credit capacity of cover crops to the subsequent crop, particularly under Ontario horticultural production systems. The overall goal of this project was to assess the value in terms of N trapping (i.e. preventing leaching loss and greenhouse gas emission) and release of N from the cover crop to the subsequent crop the following year. Generally, early-planted cover crops compared to the same cover crop planted a month later have more biomass, protect soil from erosion better and take up more N which may result in less N leaching and ultimately less nutrient loading to the Great Lakes. Initial results suggest early versus late cover crop planting dates do not influence the following cucumber crop yield. Economic analyses seem most favourable for oats and oilseed radish as cover crops prior to cucumbers, however, this is based on data from one year.
Demonstration and Knowledge Transfer: A series of workshops were delivered across Ontario to highlight cover crop use and applied research on cover crops. Focus sessions with growers and agribusiness personnel allowed the identification of barriers to cover crop adoption. This project supported the development of the Midwest Cover Crop Council website, which features a wealth of cover crop information for producers in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. The website hosts the Cover Crop Decision Tool, an interactive, regional decision making tool for selecting cover crop species.
Influence of extreme weather events on export of bacteria, nutrients, water color and mercury from agricultural lands and wetlands
Collaborators: University of Ottawa, St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, Raisin Region Conservation Authority
Project Contact: Dr. David Lean (613) 562-5800 ext. 6349
The influence of extreme weather events on the export of bacteria, nutrients, water color and mercury from agricultural lands and wetlands were assessed based on studies conducted within the Raisin River Watershed located north east of Cornwall, Ontario. Studies included monitoring water quality parameters of concerns at various locations along the Raisin River, its tributaries and headwaters, and an evaluation of the potential impact of droughts and extreme rain events that may be associated with climate change.
Results revealed that most of the total and methyl mercury, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), nutrients and sulfate are released from wetlands, located near headwaters which have been altered by land drainage. This demonstrates the importance of a good sampling program in which a land use analysis is considered in order to better understand non-point source contamination; sampling and testing of water collected only at the mouth of a river can bring about inaccurate conclusions.
Based on results, it appears that climate change could have significant impacts on the water quality of the Raisin River and similar watersheds. Changes in historical precipitations, rate of snowmelt, rainfall intensity and duration could alter spring freshets, and rate of infiltration and runoff, causing changes in the annual loadings of nutrients and contaminants to a river system. These changes may also affect the water levels of wetlands and impact the availability of some contaminants of concern.
Undisturbed wetlands are significant sites for carbon sequestration, due in part to redox conditions which reduce degradation rates. Land drainage causes low water levels which allows for the introduction of oxygen, and sulfides which have trapped mercury and other metals are converted to sulfate. Once free, these metals are mobile and can be washed away with subsequent rain events. Under aerobic conditions, mercury can be converted to methyl mercury by microorganisms, which can accumulate in fish or other aquatic organisms. Methyl mercury in the headwaters of the Raison River and other tributaries reaching the St. Lawrence River have been measured well over 1000 pg/L compared with levels of about 50-80 in the St. Lawrence.
It is clear that integration of land use and the improvements in water quality go hand in hand. While there is historical precedence for wetland draining, preserving or restoring the natural conditions of wetlands could minimize the export of mercury, nutrients and dissolved organic carbon.
Integrated Watershed Based Stewardship: Collaborative Environmental Farm Plan and Community Based Stewardship
Collaborators: University of Guelph, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Trout Unlimited Canada, Grand River and Hamilton Region Conservation Authorities
Project Contact: John Fitzgibbon or Scott Mackay (519) 824-4120 ext. 56784
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provided research funding to the Department of Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph in 2008-09. The goal was to develop and test an evidence-based planning framework for collaborative, community-based watershed stewardship in Great Lakes watersheds of rural southern Ontario. A qualitative, case study approach to research was chosen in order to gain an in-depth understanding of how and why collaborative approaches could be pursued and how the context in which they were pursued influenced their success.
The project included three main components:
An advisory committee composed of government agencies (AAFC, Hamilton CA, Grand River CA, OMAFRA) and civil society organizations (OSCIA, OFA, Hamilton-Wentworth Stewardship Council), as well as a University of Guelph project team oversaw the project. Ad hoc committees were convened to plan workshops and forums, and conduct ongoing engagement work with landowners and community groups.
Outcomes of the research include two community-based watershed stewardship plans, a guidebook for undertaking collaborative watershed stewardship in rural Ontario, a graduate (Masters level) thesis, and presentations about the work to both local and provincial-level audiences. Social outcomes include enhanced knowledge and social capital (relationships amongst landowners, across landowner sectors (farm, non-farm) and between landowners and government agencies for watershed stewardship in the pilot sub-watershed study areas.
Collaborators: Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority, Environment Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources, Huron County, OMAFRA, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Project Contact: Mari Veliz (519) 235-2610
Federal and provincial agencies working on the Lake Huron-Georgian Bay Framework for Community Action have held three Youth Summits since 2007. The purpose of the Summits is to foster a community-based approach to the restoration and protection of the lands and waters of the Lake Huron-Georgian Bay watershed through education, awareness and community action.
Twenty-eight participants attended the September 2009 Youth Summit held in Huron County. Participants were exposed to a variety of activities including:
Participants also took part in a farm tour in order to learn about agricultural activities within their area.
Community mentors such as mayors, municipal councillors, and teachers, work with the youth in their home communities to raise awareness of the Lake Huron-Georgian Bay Framework and opportunities for local and collaborative community activities to support Lake Huron's ecosystem. Participants become Youth Ambassadors with the aim of spreading their knowledge and increasing awareness in their home communities through organizing school events, and presenting to municipal councils, service groups and schools.
Collaborators: Grand River Conservation Authority, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Environment Canada
The 9th Annual River Water Forum was held on September 18, 2009 and hosted over 300 participants. The Great Lakes Great Links: A Grand Connection event was an important gathering for water experts, water managers and the interested public within the Grand River Watershed. The event focused on the influence of the watersheds which drain into the Great Lakes and the impacts of these rivers upon water quality and quantity, with a particular focus on the Grand River and Lake Erie.
The event hosted a number of speakers ranging from researchers to government officials, whom discussed the importance of water quality, ecosystem management and addressing current issues.
The challenge in managing water resources is that they are characterized by change, complexity, uncertainty and conflict. Paul Emerson, CAO, Grand River Conservation Authority, noted that over the past century, the ecological links between the Grand River and Lake Erie have been broken by the introduction of dams, weirs and alteration to landscape which have altered the natural balance of the ecosystem resulting in issues including degraded water quality, changes in water flow and dynamics, and negative impacts on biodiversity. The health of Lake Erie is dependent on the health of the rivers which flow into it; river health is influenced by a complex mix of interactions among human activities on the land and their demands on natural resources, biophysical conditions in the watershed and the strategies used to manage these connections.
Nutrient Retention, Nutrient Saturation and Climate Predicting Nutrient Delivery by Agricultural Streams
Collaborators: Trent University
Project Contact: Peter Dillon (705) 748-1011 ext. 7536
Climate change is expected to lead to changes in patterns of precipitation, as well as water temperature throughout the Great Lakes Basin. The consequences of these changes to aquatic biodiversity and to water quality are difficult to predict, particularly when factoring in the multitude of other impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Excess nutrients remain one of the most severe threats to water quality and aquatic biodiversity in Canada. Climate change may exacerbate current nutrient pollution effects.
Control of non-point nutrient sources is an important management focus to limit the effects of excess nutrients. Stream sediments are important in nutrient retention and regeneration. Less is known about how stream sediments will respond to changes in flow dynamics or temperature as a result of climate change. This study investigated the effects of altered flow dynamics and changes in nutrient loading on stream sediment nutrient dynamics.
Three sites were tested within the Lake Scugog Watershed, along with a low nutrient reference site. Flow-through sediment chambers were installed in streams, and salt tracers were used in conjunction with nutrient addition experiments (phosphate, nitrate as well as dissolved organic carbon) to enable tracking of water transport and changes in nutrient concentrations. We found that flow dynamics did not significantly affect how stream sediments cycle nutrients. However, sediments are highly dynamic in their nutrient cycling. In some cases stream sediments can attenuate increased nitrate loads, while in other cases, sediments likely function as a source of nutrients to overlying water.
Collaborators: Friends of Rondeau, Lower Thames River Conservation Authority, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ministry of Natural Resources, Chatham-Kent Drainage Committee
Part I: The Rondeau Bay ecosystem has been impacted by nutrient and sediment loading from chronic soil erosion on and runoff from farmland in its tributary watershed for many years. The first-ever Ontario Lake Erie coastal watershed application of high-resolution LiDAR data acquisition for detailed digital elevation model (DEM) development was accomplished in Spring 2008 at Rondeau Bay. Concurrently a high resolution digital polygon framework was developed for this agricultural landscape to permit mapping of cropping and tillage system practices into a geographic information system (GIS) database.
Field mapping for this Agricultural Resource Inventory (AgRI) information was conducted in the 2008 and 2009 cropping seasons. Together with the detailed soil and climate information compiled for this project, the LiDAR-based DEM and this current AgRI land management information permitted "within-field-scale" modelling of soil erosion and runoff for this watershed's tributary catchments to be conducted. These facilitate the planning, design and deployment of on-the-ground mitigation efforts required to change land management practices and/or install appropriate control structures.
Part II: Four sites were selected for the 2009-2010 pilot. OMAFRA engineering staff worked closely with each landowner to decide upon the best design for each site. Landowners arranged for suitable contracting for the work required, all projects were completed between November 1st and December 15th 2009.
Part III: The support of farmers in the Rondeau Bay area is critical to ensuring the goal of restoring Rondeau Bay Watershed. In trying to understand the factors which drive farmers' behaviour in their choices for certain farm management practices, an integrated research program has been designed to capture opinions of farmers, to determine perceived benefits and perceived barriers of implementing nutrient management Best Management Practices (BMP's).
Collaborators: Raisin Region Conservation Authority, Resource Stewardship Council Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry
Project Contact: Chris Critoph (613) 938-3611
Agricultural practices which were common in this region in the past, such as allowing cattle in creeks, are rarely seen today. In areas where these practices are still occurring, the landowner is generally aware that it is unacceptable, and is planning to undertake the necessary steps to improve their practices. However, the rural issues surrounding the land use impacts on aquatic ecosystems and the stewardship initiatives undertaken by the rural community are often not well understood by the urban population within the St. Lawrence Area of Concern (AOC).
The Rural Urban Linkage project was undertaken in order to begin building awareness of agricultural best management practices at the secondary school level. By having a stewardship ethic taught in the curriculum, the project contributed to improving public awareness regarding landowners and programs that support beneficial management practices and stewardship activities. A high school in Alexandria was chosen as pilot site as agriculture is the predominant land use in the area. A local farm was selected for school visits based upon accessibility and location within the St. Lawrence AOC. The landowners have completed six farm stewardship projects, and have diverse landscape features on their farm including wetland, municipal drain, vernal pools, meadow and forest.
Opportunities to align with the objectives of the Ontario Ministry of Education Curriculum for grades 9 through 12 were identified in the Science, Open Physical and Health Education and Academic Geography curriculum. Several educational activities supporting the implementation of best management farming practices were selected including: Nature Hike; Water Sampling and Water Quality; Benthic Sampling and Water Quality; Marsh Monitoring (Amphibian and Bird Surveys); Fish Community Sampling, and; Tree Identification and Forest Activities.
Forty-eight students in two grade nine science classes participated in these activities in November 2008. The project successfully introduced students to the principles of agricultural best management practices. For the majority of students, this would have been their first exposure to the topic. This allowed them the opportunity to hear details first hand from a landowner who has adopted many practices on their own operation and from agencies that are active in encouraging, implementing and monitoring the impacts.
Further information can be found on the Raisin Region Conservation Authority website.
Collaborators: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Project Contacts: Hugh John Smith (519) 826-3184
When the existing extension booklet on household septic systems went out of print there was an opportunity to create a replacement document, which would address the needs of Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) participants, and also contribute to the goals of the OMAFRA Great Lakes Program. The objective was to create a practical, plain language document which would provide information on Best Management Practices (BMP) for rural households with on-site waste water treatment systems (septic systems) resulting in improved water quality by minimizing pollutants from poorly functioning systems.
A technical review committee, chaired by OMAFRA, was organized with representation from the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Waterloo, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Technical writing was contributed by staff from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.
A twelve page booklet with colour illustrations has been created describing the function and key components of a class 4 rural septic system as well as listing the advantages and disadvantages of leaching beds and filter beds. The booklet also provides guidelines on minimum separation distances for leaching or filter beds and outlines the BMP's for proper maintenance of a septic system.
The booklet is available through:
To date over 35,000 copies have been requested and read by rural septic users, and is considered a valuable education and awareness resource.
Sponsorship of 16th and 17th Annual International Conference on the St. Lawrence River/Great Lakes Ecosystem
Collaborators: St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences
Project Contact: Christina Collard (613) 936-6620
The 16th Annual International 'St. Lawrence River/Great Lakes Ecosystem Conference', hosted May 3-5, 2009 and the '17th Annual International 'St. Lawrence River/Great Lakes Ecosystem Conference' hosted May 5-6, 2010 were presented by the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences in partnership with the Great River Center at Clarkson University in 2009 and St. Lawrence Restoration Council in 2010.
Both conferences focused on issues and challenges associated with the St. Lawrence Seaway and its management. Public and scientific sessions addressing the state of the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall (an IJC designated Area of Concern) were held. Significant progress has been made on the implementation of the remedial action plan for the St. Lawrence River, and these sessions provided an opportunity to the public to hear from scientists and managers about the state of the river. Comments and feedback from the community provided valuable feedback to the River Restoration Council who, with implementation of the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) nearing completion, must make a decision to either move to delisting the area or move it to the status of area in recovery.
The 16th Annual Conference 'St. Lawrence Seaway Gateway to the Great Lakes: Unlocking 50 years of Benefits and Impacts' hosted over 80 participants, and provided over 35 presentations on the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes Ecosystem. This conference focused on Areas of Concern (AOC) within the St. Lawrence Seaway, how tributaries impact water quality within the St. Lawrence Great Lakes ecosystem, along with investigating, quantifying, and assessing management practices regarding tributaries. Presentations included the Marsh Monitoring Program, Septic Re-Inspection Program, Charlottenburgh Park Restoration, Cooper Marsh Habitat Enhancement, Lake St. Francis Aquatic Vegetation Mapping, Osprey Nesting Success, Natural Heritage Strategy, Cornwall Sediment Strategy, Tributary Restoration Program, and the Bacteria Assessment Program. Presentations by Seaway Managers provided overviews of the economic importance of the shipping industry and on progress made by the industry on control of invasive aquatic species.
The 17th Annual Conference 'Protection and Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems through Government and Community Action' hosted over 125 participants, and provided over 50 presentations. This conference concentrated on successes and future challenges of the Great Lakes, with particular focus on the critical protection and restoration efforts needed to manage and sustain fresh water aquatic ecosystems. Experts in research, conservation and community development came together to share knowledge and concerns regarding the current state of freshwater aquatics and to discuss actions plans for protection, restoration and management of vulnerable ecosystems. Presentations included Invasive Species Impacts, Rural Urban Linkage High School Curriculum, Tributary Outlet Sampling, Black Tern Project, Aquatic Vegetation Mapping Project, Muskellunge Management Plan, Osprey Location and Activity, and the Map Turtle Project. A roundtable discussion was held on a new vision for St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes governance.
In addition both conferences hosted 30-50 participants which attended the special evening session on the St. Lawrence RAP. Research contributions included lessons learned from other regulated river ecosystems within Canada relevant to the St. Lawrence River.
Initiated in 1993, the River Institute' Ecosystem Conferences have become important scientific environmental events, bringing together leading scientists, industry, water experts, consultants, government agencies, NGO's and students within Canada's Seaway City. Overall these sessions contributed to increased awareness and appreciation of the Great Lakes and their contributions to social, economic and environmental well-being.
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