By Geoff Peach, Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation
Kathy Grechuta, Stewardship Manual Coordinator
Great concern over the declining health of the Lake Huron coastline in recent years has prompted local community organizations to develop innovative tools for improving the coastal environment. Water quality impairments have been consistently linked to agricultural runoff, sewage plant discharges, faulty septic systems, and property management practices. While farm programs existed to help farmers make environmental improvements, and sewage plant upgrades were underway in many localities, few resources existed for coastal residents to learn about and adopt best stewardship practices.
The Stewardship Guide for the Lake Huron Coastline was developed as a workbook and resource for lakeshore landowners to adopt best stewardship practices to improve water quality, habitat, and stewardship of the natural shoreline corridor. The overriding goal of the Lake Huron Stewardship program is to encourage sustainable use of the coast that maintains the quality of our water – both groundwater and surface water – and the natural landscape features that support our coast’s ecosystems.While the Guide was developed to help individuals to adopt practices on their property, community based organizations like local beach associations were encouraged to become involved in order to promote collective adoption and implementation of the Guide.
From its conception to implementation, a high level of community engagement was instrumental in the success of the Stewardship Guide. Over the past two years, the project has worked with a number of lakeshore and cottage associations and community groups. Twenty-seven workshops were held in various communities along the lakeshore, with over 390 participants each receiving their own guide. The focus has been as much on engaging lakeshore residents as it has on community capacity-building. Various participants initiated, promoted, organized and engaged others in their communities. This aspect of the program has been vital in fostering a long-term stewardship ethic within the greater community.
The Stewardship Guide process encourages participants to think about how they care for their property and the broader beach community from a new perspective. Participants are asked to think from a new point of view about the land, the buildings and structures on their property, and how actions affect the larger landscape. They then rate how they affect the environment and water quality around their property. Finally, participants consider ways of using and maintaining their property in order to decrease the risks to precious natural resources. Topics addressed include but are not limited to proper disposal of pesticides and chemicals, septic tank maintenance, and more environmentally conscious gardening and landscaping.
The Lake Huron Stewardship Guide Project has forged links between economy, environment, and community. The guide is a tool to help shape healthier attitudes towards the environment. A clean environment ensures that the tourism industry on which many of these coastal municipalities are reliant remains vibrant and healthy. For many of these communities, Lake Huron is their greatest asset and that asset looses its appeal if it can no longer retain its recreational value due to declining water quality. Bacteria and algae pollution have become issues that coastal residents are seeing with greater frequency. The motivation to act has helped people to see the value of the Guide as a useful resource to bring about positive change.
For a copy of the Lake Huron Stewardship Guide go to www.huronstewardship.on.ca/images/storiesstewardshipmanual.pdf.
Contact Geoff Peach, Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation for more info: (519) 523-4478 or firstname.lastname@example.org