A recent assessment of beaches for the Thunder Bay Area of Concern (AOC) confirms that the Beach Closings beneficial use impairment (BUI) is no longer impaired for the AOC.
Thunder Bay AOC beaches, which include Chippewa Park – Main Beach, Chippewa Park – Sandy Beach, and Boulevard Lake – Main Beach, were considered impaired since the Stage 1 Remedial Action Plan (RAP) report (1991) due to elevated levels of bacterial (E. coli) contamination causing frequent beach closures, thereby affecting recreational use of the waterways. To help evaluate the Beach Closings BUI, a set of delisting criteria, or restoration targets, were established under the RAP. The delisting criteria states that the Beach Closings BUI can be redesignated to Not Impaired status when the following conditions have been met:
- All public beaches have identified the primary sources of fecal pollution, and pollution control plans have been developed and implemented, including:
- Management of stormwater inputs
- Upgrades of septic systems to provincial standards
- Implementation of a management program for birds and animals
- A completion of feasible actions to improve water circulation
- Water quality testing carried out at all public beaches on a regular, frequent, and ongoing basis demonstrates that 80% of geometric means have E. coli counts of 200 or less colony forming units per 100mL of water (≤200 E. coli/100mL)* based on a five-year monitoring average.
*The E. coli standard of ≤200 E.coli/100mL is consistent with Canada-wide water guidelines from Health Canada and the Provincial Water Protocol.
Over the history of the RAP program, several remedial actions were undertaken to improve the state of Thunder Bay beaches. Completed remedial actions were measured against the delisting criteria, and as of 2020, monitoring confirms that all aspects of the delisting criteria for the Beach Closings BUI have been met.
Over the last five years, monitoring by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) at all three of the Thunder Bay beaches has found that:
- 81% of the time bacterial counts are ≤ 200 at Chippewa Park Main Beach,
- 98% of the time bacterial counts are ≤ 200 at Chippewa Park Sandy Beach, and
- 93% of the time bacterial counts are ≤200 at Boulevard Lake Main Beach.
With respect to delisting criterion #1, many actions have been successfully implemented since the mid-1990s in an effort to reduce bacterial contamination and improve the health of public beaches within the AOC. Evidence shows these efforts have been successful in improving water quality as the beaches now meet the target under delisting criterion #2 based on a five-year monitoring average as stated above. Additional information can be found in the complete assessment report below.
Since all delisting criteria has been met, no further actions are required under the RAP program.
Additional or ongoing activities (such as the management of waterfowl) to further improve water quality at the Thunder Bay beaches would best be addressed by ongoing efforts by the City of Thunder Bay. The TBDHU will continue to monitor the area beaches. Information about the TBDHU’s monitoring and notifications to the public about swimming conditions in Thunder Bay can be found here:
In 1987 the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement identified 43 Areas of Concern (AOCs) around the Great Lakes with 26 in the United States, 12 in Canada, and 5 binational areas shared between the two countries. AOCs are places where the environmental integrity of an area has been severely degraded in physical, chemical, or biological water quality parameters through human activity. At the time of the designation, these areas lost their ability to properly function and the negative impacts were felt by both aquatic and human life.
In order for an AOC to be delisted, all Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) must be remediated to begin the delisting process. There are 14 types of BUIs that range from fish tumours to beach closings to loss of habitat to benthos degradation and everything in between. As of March 2021, eight AOCs have been delisted, two are in the recovery phases and the other 33 AOCs are continuing to have work and develop projects to restore the BUIs of the given AOC. BUIs are removed with targets set by the local Remedial Action Plan (RAP) that include provincial governments, tribal governments, First Nations, Métis, municipal governments, watershed management, local public agencies, and a public advisory council (PAC). Projects are typically funded through the Great Lakes Protection Initiative (GLPI) in Canada.
Delisting an AOC has positive impacts on aquatic ecosystems, but the benefits of delisting an AOC extends beyond the water. AOCs impact both the local community and the ecosystem of an area. These community beneficiaries include nearby First Nations communities, government officials, artists, athletes, planners, anglers and many more. Delisting an AOC involves an ongoing conversation with these beneficiaries to determine the best clean-up option for the particular community.
Different indicators need to be established to track the progress of delisting an AOC and addressing the BUIs, these indicators are not exclusively environmental, but can also extend to the economy and human health. Having a broad perspective when addressing AOCs is important because of the far-reaching impacts restoring natural habitats and functions can have on a community.
Delisting an AOC can turn a waterfront that was once degraded with a bad reputation to a vibrant, healthy place, where both the ecosystem and people can flourish. It is important for the community to have representation and engagement from all types of ecosystem beneficiaries to help ensure the longevity of projects and a strong revitalization that everyone benefits from. Community buy-in also helps to keep the waterfront healthy and helps to prevent future degradation after the AOC has been delisted.
Projects aim to clean up and restore degradation while improving human well-being and social equity while protecting and improving natural capital. Without a healthy functional ecosystem, human well-being and social equity are difficult to improve. Delisting AOCs often have a positive impact on property values in AOC communities, as well as increased outdoor recreation, commerce, port or shoreline activity, residential development that’s all supported by a healthy and sustainable environment.
In the fall of 2020, Tim Hollinger, a Masters’s student in Lakehead’s geography department, went out on Lake Nipigon which you can read about here. The previous trip was restricted due to COVID-19 public health guidelines. This year, in June 2021, Tim along with Nathan and Dr. Stewart went out again for another round of sampling. The group included two fish biologists, Erica from Nokiiwin Tribal Council looking at microplastics, community fishermen, and the Lakehead geography team which looked at sediment cores.
Lakehead’s geography department has been working with Rocky Bay (BZA) since 2016 focusing on work with the First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program. The area has a long history with hydrological development from gold to forestry, the watershed is littered with dams from its industrious past. The community is invested in the revitalization of its waters and conducting its own environmental monitoring. First Nations communities have historically been excluded from development planning and the potential impacts of said development on the environment. The community’s main concern revolves around contaminants in fish which directly impact their country foods and sustenance. The goal is to build the communities capacity to conduct its own monitoring. This gives them to autonomy to know what’s happening on the land and to be able to go to the government and engage in conversation. The goal is to have community members collecting the samples and have Lakehead’s role move to an off-hand position where they provide lab analysis. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the team’s ability to conduct research the way they planned, but this summer, the team got out and made the most of what they could given the restrictions.
This trip the team focused on 5 to 6 southern bays which were identified by community fishermen, a father-son duo, who also accompanied the research team on their week-long trip. Unlike last year where the crew slept on the floor of the boat, this trip they had the opportunity to take out the community’s new boat where the living accommodations were quite nice. At each spot, the goal was to catch 3 walleye and to take sediment cores and water samples. Despite Lake Nipigon size, there are still no bathymetry maps of Lake Nipigon. Each bay had unique characteristics that made each bay like its own little lake. Throughout the trip, the team constantly looked for ways to make things fun and engaging. After they finished collecting their deepwater samples for analysis, they would take another sample from 80 feet down and drink from the deep cool water.
Some of the highlights from the trip for Tim were seeing the different landscapes of Lake Nipigon. It’s a relatively remote lake and getting to experience the lake with a local community is something Tim will forever be great full for. The team was sampling a lot of fish and as a result, they had a group of about 30 pelicans following their boat throughout the trip. The trip happened during the summer solstice so days were often spent working until 10 and having a fish fry at midnight. The father-son duo, Abe and Adam, were also phenomenal storytellers that made the time enjoyable and flyby.
The trip was amazing and overall smooth sailing (motoring), but the team did face a couple of challenges along the way. In certain areas, it was tough to get sediment cores and find the representative sediment. Clay and silt are where contaminants accumulate and in such a big lake with lots of energy, it was challenging at times to find a spot with a good silt and clay layer. The contaminants program ideally needed 30 Walleye from each spot, but sometimes they couldn’t get the 30 walleye in the time they had and wound up with 15-20. It was the boat’s maiden voyage and some technical issues arose, but Abe and Adam worked vigilantly to problem solve and keep things on schedule. Like any trip or research endeavor, more time would always be nice, but the team made the most of the time they had. The team plans to head out at the end of the summer to conquer the north and east side of Lake Nipigon.
Zack is the founder of Such A Nice Day Adventures which operates in the Thunder Bay area extending east to the United States Border and West to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Zack is a born adventurer who fell in love with paddling sports from a young age thanks to many family canoe trips. It wasn’t until Zack came to Lakehead University where he found his passion for kayaking. Zack has an outdoor education degree and stumbled upon kayak after tackling an ill-prepared trip on the beast that is Lake Superior. SAND is about connecting people to the water and cultivating a deep love for the lake and the landscape.
SAND Adventures offers courses, day tours, expeditions and is evolving each season. Sand Adventures is based out of Rossport and Thunder Bay. In Rossport, the company operates out of Superior Outfitters where courses and rentals are offered. The mission statement of the company is “animate the wonders of Lake Superior through traveling on the lake”. Connecting people to the lake and teaching people about how Lake Superior is a sensitive environment despite its vastness are important tenants that Zack brings to the company.
The Lake Superior Starter Course
This course is all about teaching people the proper skills to navigate the harsh environment of Lake Superior from paddling strokes, to rescue skills, to seamanship. The first day is spent in the water developing the skills to prepare you for the day trip on the second day.
SAND Adventures also offers expeditions on Lake Superior. Silver Islet to Rossport (8 days), Nirivia Basecamp tour (5 days), Slate Islands (5.5 days). Expeditions are a great way to spend time on the water exploring relatively untouched islands and shorelines along the lake.
SAND Adventures also offers educational opportunities that the Thunder Bay RAP team has had the opportunity to take part of. SAND adventures want to branch out from being a company that exclusively does tours and, and get into environmental consultation to make a difference in the health of the lake. In 2019, RAP contracted SAND adventures to go out on the lake and look at the Jackfish Bay RAP site. The team went out every other week for 16 weeks. They went out on kayaks and flew drones and were able to see the aesthetic differences. They used Secchi disks, took temperature readings, qualitative observations about foam, discoloration, algae presence, and smells. Bringing awareness to the public is an important part of the work to bring more eyes to what can be done to improve the quality of the water. The north shore is a relatively isolated environment.
COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we live we our lives. Many businesses and activities came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 and some still face setbacks. SAND Adventures and Lakehead University are hoping to put on a field school once public health guidelines and the university’s guidelines permit. Lake Superior is a miraculous place as the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. Getting students out on the lake to interact with the lake and look at water quality indicators that can help monitor changes over time is a great way to develop a greater appreciation and deeper knowledge. The field school won’t be happening this year, but hopefully, it will happen sooner than later. Zack has worked with the Lakehead Outdoor Recreation department through leading sea kayaking courses and expeditions.
SAND Adventures has been safely able to operate this year. COVID-19 protocols are in place to keep everyone safe and able to experience the lake. COVID-19 limited the amount the company was able to operate in 2020, but every year since its inception the company evolves. Zack has a crew of experienced kayak instructors who help him facilitate a bustling summer schedule full of fun and adventure. Although, kayaking is not exclusive to the summer months. Zack has done ice kayaking where they break through ice or carry their kayaks across the ice to open frigid waters in the winter.
There is something truly spectacular about seeing the lake powered by your own body. Kayaking is a great way to explore while building a connection and deep appreciation to the lake
How to Change Everything: the young human’s guide to protecting the planet and each other, it’s written by Naomi Klein with Rebecca Stefoff. The book is written for a younger audience but is a fast and easy read with principles and stories that resonate with any age. With the record high temperatures coupled with droughts, wildfires, and other events that have been increasing in recent years, the reality is that climate change is not something of the future, but something of the present.
Highlighted throughout this book are the stories of young people taking action to raise awareness, make a change, and be a voice for the Earth. There are steps and ideas on how to get involved in climate activism work that are applicable to everyone.
This book highlights the stories of kids around the world that are taking their future into their own hands. Greta Thunberg is a notable example, but there are stories about kids from all over the world taking action in their community. One story features an Anishinaabe from Manitoulin Island named Autumn Peltier who is known as the “Water Walker”. She is the Anishinabek Nation chief water commissioner and has spoken in front of the UN about the ongoing water crisis that many Indigenous communities across Canada continue to face. She’s echoed the need to protect the environment because people can’t survive off oil and money. She’s an inspiring young woman who gives a voice to water and continues to fi
The book was written during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which uses the pandemic as an example of the types of changes that can happen when people come together. The world abruptly changed to adapt to quickly spreading coronavirus. It gives hope that big changes can be made to tackle the climate crisis. The up-and-coming generation is putting the environment at the forefront and in a few years will make up a large portion of the voting population.