Groundwater is essential to nurture safe and healthy communities

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About eight million people who live in the Great Lakes Basin (on both sides of the border) depend on groundwater for drinking water, sanitation systems, agriculture and food production, industry and healthy ecosystems. “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible” was the theme for World Water Day 2022. For World Water Day on March 22, The Expositor took a closer look at our own groundwater.

Groundwater is found in underground aquifers and feeds springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands and seeps into the oceans. It is fed mainly by rain and snow that infiltrate the ground. As climate change worsens, groundwater will become more critical.

On Manitoulin Island, we have a lot of fractured limestone under the ground, said Seija Deschenes, project coordinator for Manitoulin Streams. “There are a lot of places where we have underground streams.”

You might see surface streams that suddenly seem to end, but they actually go underground before rising and continuing to flow further downstream. “There are other places where groundwater springs erupt and feed our local streams and turn them into cold water streams,” added Deschênes. An example would be Blue Jay Creek.

“This one has a lot of aquifers underground that bring in that spring water and keep the creek really nice and cold,” she explained. “It’s extremely important when it comes to certain species of fish, such as brook trout. Brook trout need cold waterways to live, so if the water temperature rises, they will become unsuitable for living there. They have a temperature threshold and can only live in a certain water temperature so if our streams start to warm up it will impact many different species or those that come to spawn in some of our watercourse.

Manitoulin Streams uses nature-based solutions to protect and enhance the waterways and shorelines they work on, which impacts groundwater. “Restoring the banks and planting lots of trees along our shores is really important because as these shrubs grow they provide plenty of shade which will also keep this water cool and protect it from the sun that hits it when we we receive it. warmer weather, which seems inevitable.

They also use bio-engineering techniques, where engineers narrow flows. The narrowing of the streams increases the depth of the water. A very wide stream where, for example, cattle would enter and erode the banks, would become shallower as it continued to widen. Shallow water will warm faster. “By putting rock piles in to reduce the amount of space the water has to go through, it actually raises the water level a bit,” she added.

Different weirs that Manitoulin Streams had placed inside the streams help retain water so that in the warmer months fish can still come up the streams to spawn, especially Chinook salmon , which often has problems because it enters streams to spawn in late August and September, when the water is usually a bit lower. The construction of this natural infrastructure allows salmon to access these main spawning grounds and reproduce. “It will help counter some of the impacts of climate change, and all the trees and provide shade along those corridors for fish,” Ms. Deschenes said.

Islanders can plant trees on their own property to help, but the type of tree will depend on where their property is located. Tree species tend to have a preference for wet or dry. For example, cedars will thrive where it’s a little wetter, as will red osier dogwood and alders, she noted. “Whereas if you have something like white pine or red pine, they like it sandier. An island example where there is a lot of sand would be the Providence Bay area. Manitoulin Streams has carried out restoration work along these high embankments where there is a lot of sand below and where the pines are happy.

Larch or tamarack prefer a bit wetter area and maples like it a bit drier, she said. “The poplars like humidity and they grow very, very quickly. If you want something established fairly quickly, poplar does pretty well. They have a shallow root system so sometimes you will find in a big windstorm that they will be the first to topple over or the other thing is they are a sought after food source for the beaver.

For shoreline owners, she suggests planting trees in places where a view of the lake is not necessary or alternatively, planting trees far apart in order to maintain a beautiful view. “The roots will still absorb all those nutrients that might sink,” she said. The roots act as a filter to prevent many contaminants from entering the water.

“A lot of people use septic tanks and if you have trees along that shoreline and in the yard, they take up a lot of nutrients that might otherwise end up in the lake,” she said.

Ms. Deschênes also encourages people to empty their septic tank regularly, at least every two years, or to change it quickly if it is defective.

One thing that affects groundwater is “all the garbage we see along the roads”. Ms. Deschênes said that during a clean-up last year, she picked up 36 bags of garbage from one side of a short stretch of Highway 6, between White’s Point Road and the landfill site of the northeast of Manitoulin and the islands. “As it breaks down, all of those chemicals that go into creating the plastic go into the water,” she said.

She hopes there will be an island-wide cleanup this year. It’s something she’s just started planning and hopes to recruit everyone across the island to help her. “We can have a huge impact in reducing the amount of plastic that could potentially enter watersheds in waterways or blow directly into lakes because it happens all the time.”

She pointed out that Canadians throw away three million tonnes of plastic waste every year. “Only nine percent of our plastic waste is recycled each year. The rest goes to landfills, waste-to-energy facilities and the environment. When plastic enters our environment, it very slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, polluting the water we drink and damaging the outdoor spaces we love. They break down to become what are called microplastics.

About 10,000 tons of plastic pollution enters the Great Lakes each year, from coffee cup lids, plastic cutlery, foam dock materials, nylon ropes, plastic bags and wraps, polystyrene, personal care products, wipes and disposable contact lenses. “They continually break down through weathering, into smaller and smaller pieces, never completely disappearing,” she said. “This leads to an increase in human consumption of plastics. On average, people ingest five grams of plastic each week, which is equivalent to the weight of a credit card.

Ms. Deschênes pointed out that another major source of microplastic pollution is the fibers of clothing. Nearly 80% of clothing manufactured today contains man-made fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc. slowly accumulate in the environment,” she added. “Microfibers from our aquatic habitats can be ingested by fish, wildlife, and humans.”

Washing machine filters can reduce the buildup of microfibers in our environment and waters. On March 22, NDP MP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale) announced that she would reintroduce her bill to ensure that all washing machines sold in Ontario are equipped with a filter that reduces the loss of microfibers in water and soil systems.

Research conducted by the Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto and supported by Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) showed that filters captured an average of 87% of microfibers in a lab environment and, in a real environment, ultimately reduced emissions Wastewater. treatment plan. According to the report, filters installed in about 10% of households can reduce emissions by at least 10%, or even more, when combined with education of the community as a whole. Washing machines are not the only source of microfibers found in the environment, but are a major contributor.

“Our study with the University of Toronto estimated that if the approximately 1.2 million households in Toronto all had washing machine filters, then the annual capture of microfibers could be in the range of 12 to 166 trillion diverted microfibers from the drain,” David said. Sweetnam, Executive Director of GBF.

According to the Ontario Ground Water Association, nearly 28.5% of Ontario’s population, including most rural homes and businesses, depend on clean, safe groundwater for their water supply: it is essential to the well-being of our communities and natural ecosystems, and we all need to protect it and use it sustainably.

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