Storm Water Management
The Great Lakes watershed has been experiencing increased amounts of pollution from toxicants, toxins, nutrients, sediments, and other chemicals due to urbanization. This pollution has damaged the health of ecosystems in various ways.
For example, phosphorus is a chemical that is often caught by storm water and accumulates in lakes and rivers. In areas of Ontario that are more developed, particularly suburban areas, phosphorus is present in higher levels than less developed areas (Duval, 2018). These higher levels of phosphorus have been attributed to land clearing and house development (Duval, 2018). Phosphorus is a vital chemical for aquatic plants to grow. At first, this may sound like increased levels of phosphorus would be beneficial to the environment, however, as more plants grow, the amount of dead plant material also increases. Decomposing plant matter uses oxygen from the water lowers dissolved oxygen levels. Without enough oxygen in the water, fish will die in large numbers and disrupt the rest of the ecosystem.
Phosphorus also increases the rate with which eutrophication (the "ageing" of a lake) occurs. As lakes age, they become more prone to algal blooms. Algal blooms are composed of bacteria, not actually algae, which produce neurotoxins and biotoxins that harm local wildlife.
Thankfully our lakes in Muskoka are fairly oligotrophic, meaning they are clear, low in plant population, and contain plenty of oxygen. This is what gives the lakes their desirability, and draws visitors into Muskoka. However, as we add more phosphorus to our local lakes, they will become less clear, have an increased plant population (especially algae and less desirable plants), and have decreased oxygen levels (which will result in lower and less healthy fish populations). These effects will drastically decrease the desirability of the Muskoka lakes for cottagers, vacationers, and locals. As you can see, increased phosphorus levels can have huge impacts on the environment. However, phosphorus is only one pollutant of many that we need to worry about, and other pollutants can have even worse effects on watersheds than phosphorus.
How can this problem be solved?
Storm water management attempts to imitate the natural water cycle by allowing as much water to infiltrate the ground as before the development of the property. The goal of storm water management is to reduce the amount of water that needs to be treated by municipal wastewater systems.
As more and more land is developed, more hard and impermeable surfaces are created. These surfaces, such as asphalt roadways, have chemicals and other pollutants on their surface. Since water can not penetrate the asphalt surface, it runs along the roadway and gathers chemicals and sediment. Storm water on roadways is then consolidated into municipal waste water systems which concentrates pollution and sediment from the water in lakes and rivers.
When rain falls to the ground, low impact development strategies store and absorb the water, or turn it into ground water through infiltration. The process of infiltration naturally filters large amounts of pollution and sediment, which effectively cleans the runoff. This method of waste water management is extremely effective. Also, once the initial design has been implemented, the passive filtering of the water costs no additional expense to the homeowner.
Why should you help?
Along with improving the health of the watershed and the quality of our local waterways, in the near future it may also save you money. Recently, Mississauga and the Region of Peel have implemented a storm water runoff tax. The amount residents have to pay is based on the amount of hard and impermeable surfaces on their property, due to the amount of runoff they create. The charge is being used to upgrade and maintain the city's wastewater infrastructure, but it can also be seen as a deterrent for creating unneeded storm water runoff. If Mississauga has implemented this type of tax, it isn't unreasonable to think the District of Muskoka could as well.
Storm Water Management Solutions
Below are possible storm water management solutions. While it will be most effective to hire an engineer and landscaper to construct storm water management on your property, it is completely possible to implement them on your own! Certain solutions will be more useful in certain situation and property types. Read through to find the right one for your property!