Wild Northerner Magazine Summer 2018 - Page 17

Q - What are the key projects/direction for the ORA in 2018 and the near future?

A - The key driver for ORA in 2018 is to continue our work on influencing policy and legislation, but to also place our focus on dam removal projects. In 2017 ORA partnered with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Credit Valley Conservation Authority to remove the Rudd Dam on the West Credit River – a coldwater brook trout fishery. We intend it to be the first of many such dam removal projects. We expect to soon begin the planning and work on another dam removal project, again partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, a local Conservation Authority, and others. We are also campaigning hard for several other potential dam removal projects on the West Credit, North Maitland, and Speed Rivers. It is a very challenging job that sometimes ends in success, like the Springbank Dam on the Thames River; however, there is often opposition when head ponds/reservoirs are at risk of being taken away. It is challenging to convince those who have built their investments and dreams around an artificial lake about the environmental and ecosystem benefits of dam removal.

Q - In your seven years with the ORA, what has stood out about the people you work with?

A - As I said, this is a volunteer organization – no one in ORA gets paid, and our Board of Directors and members often travel for many hours on a weekend and have to pay for their gas and accommodation to attend our meetings. They are all very dedicated to our mission to protect, conserve and restore Ontario rivers.

Q - What is the best aspect of your job? what is the toughest aspect?

A - The best aspect of my job is the satisfaction of seeing ORA grow and expand into new and important areas and to see that we are making a difference. Growth is exciting, but at the same time challenging when you operate on a shoe-string budget that relies on membership fees and donations for support. The toughest aspect is the overwhelming job that is ahead of us, and the challenge of ensuring our members’ needs and expectations are being met. But most importantly that we are fulfilling our mission to protect, conserve and restore Ontario rivers. Visit our website and Blog here.

Q - What are the concerns/ issues/ threats for rivers in northern Ontario in the coming years?

A - ORA acknowledges that our survival on this planet depends on a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to a clean, green and renewable source of power; however, hydroelectric is neither clean or green and may only be renewable once the dam is removed many decades into the future.

The Green Energy Act and Green Economy Act have been a huge threat to Ontario rivers due to the lucrative peaking bonuses that have been offered to produce power during peak demand hours. This has encouraged hydroelectric developers to build dams with reservoirs that hold water back during off-peak hours, to generate power during peak demand. This results in extreme swings in water levels and flow velocity.

Many existing waterpower facilities are now using seasonal operating bands (regulated range of water levels) on a daily basis to generate power during peak demand hours, even though these frequent swings in water levels and flow velocities can have devastating consequences on riverine ecosystems. Furthermore, these new operating strategies are changing without the benefit of an environmental impact assessment to determine what the environmental and socio-economic consequences might be. Ontario rivers are experiencing extremes because of these lucrative incentives without proper consideration of what the trade-offs are.

The effects of dams and hydroelectric facilities on fisheries have been well documented over this past century and include the loss or serious decline of many iconic fish species that are of importance to Ontario’s economy, biodiversity and natural and cultural heritage.

The threat of another push for new hydroelectric is always there; however, the greatest threat of our time is climate change.

Climate change is bringing a whole new set of challenges to Ontario rivers, and will only intensify over time. There are hundreds of dams in Ontario that no longer serve any useful function, and many of those are in a deteriorating state of disrepair. With the extreme rain and droughts that have been on the increase, it is important to make our rivers and lakes more resilient to a warming climate. Consequently, ORA is now focusing our resources on dam removal projects to get our rivers flowing again, and to remove those old and crumbling dams that would put downstream communities at risk.

Last year, during an extreme rain event the Gorrie Dam on the North Maitland River burst and put 150 families at risk, and in 2015 in South Carolina, 18 dams burst and killed 16 people.

There are numerous other threats and risks, but of great concern is the increase in extreme rain events that result in large volumes of undertreated and untreated municipal wastewater effluent being released into many of our streams and rivers, with much of it impacting on the Great Lakes.

Sodium and chloride contamination from road salt is also a growing concern, as it is impacting on many freshwater lakes in Ontario, especially in urban areas. High sodium levels can place those on sodium restricted diets at risk, and there is no practical way to remove sodium from drinking water. High chloride levels can place aquatic life at risk.