Community Watchdogging on Lake Ontario

Community Watchdogging on Lake Ontario

By Krystyn Tully, Environmental Bureau of Investigation/Lake Ontario Keeper

In the year 2000, there was no full-time, independent body monitoring pollution crimes on Lake Ontario. To address this need, the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI) launched the Lake Ontario Keeper Program (LOK) in early 2001. LOK patrols Lake Ontario in our two boats, working with communities throughout the watershed to enforce environmental laws.

In the Fall of 2000, GLAHNF awarded EBI a grant that was specifically used to set up LOK’s website, one of our chief forms of communicating with communities and citizens around the lake. In February 2001, LOK was approved to be a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. In Summer of 2001, LOK put its first boat in the water and launched its website. In December 2001, LOK was officially launched with a visit by Waterkeeper Alliance President, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In Summer 2002, LOK will launch upgrades to its website, including an expanded environmental law section, interactive features, and video/audio segments. All are ongoing projects.

Lake Ontario Keeper, which services the whole of Lake Ontario, was set up to:

· Enforce environmental laws in the watershed (independently or by assisting government agencies)

· Serve as a visible deterrent to potential polluters

· Investigate ongoing pollution crimes

· Teach other water users how to identify contaminated sites and what to do when they find them

· Unite water users around the lake in the single goal of protecting the waterbody

More than being specific outcomes, much of the work we do is part of strengthening the process by which the people who live around the water are able to protect the lake, their communities, and their local economies. We have successfully supported other community groups in the establishment of patrol programs. Four out of last summer’s five cases we worked on sparked official government investigations with the potential to lead to criminal charges. Our main office is in Toronto; one boat is on Wolfe Island (at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway), and the other is in Hamilton (at the western end of the lake). This summer will be our first tour of the American side of Lake Ontario.

What do you consider the key to your success?

The recognition that we, solely, cannot save the lake for the communities it supports, but that we can provide citizens with the tools they need to become part of the day-to-day process by which polluters are identified, held accountable, and through which standards for healthy environments and communities are elevated.

One of our most important roles is to give a voice to the lake, and to the people who are directly affected by its contamination (see Port Hope example below).

How would you outline the steps you took to organize your project in order to advise another group working on a similar project?

· Be out on the water as much as possible-your work and credibility stem from what you see and experience directly in the field

· Know your community-there are people in every community who know the history or waterways though years of direct use. They can be valuable tools for identifying key problems, developing historical context for issues, monitoring contaminated sites, and noting changes in the environment.

· Be transparent about your work-everything we do is logged on our website. People around the lake can follow our work, and the website adds to the “visible deterrent principle”, and is a living testament to actual conditions on the lake. This has proven to be very important in getting communities and government agencies to appreciate issues and act on them.

What have the effects of this effort been on your organization’s work?

· Developed credibility within communities and the media.

· Developed LOK’s reputation for being a knowledgeable and unique source of information about the state of Lake Ontario.

· Developed a new understanding of the importance of environmental law enforcement within the environmental community.

How has this project affected your community?

The web of eyes and ears monitoring the lake is growing, which builds information, understanding, and also pressures the government to act.

What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?

Our investigation into coal tar blobs floating on the Hamilton Harbour was rejected by the Ontario Ministry of Environment because we could not identify the source; we will resume this investigation this year.

How many people were involved?

a) Initially: 5

b) Finally: 20 + volunteers

Over 8,000 people-hours were spent coordinating public events, conducting investigations, administration, and website development.

How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?

· Motivated through news articles (people read about us and wanted to learn more, assist, etc.) and a few fundraising/public events.

· Volunteer monitoring is coordinated through our office by LOK staff.

How was public education a component of your program?

Generally: media awareness and a school speech by a well-known personality, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Specifically: training in the field for documenting and sampling.

What was the primary means of communication?

Our website/weekly e-news service.

What resources were available?

The GLAHNF grant paid for our initial development. Site maintenance and core funding have come from (a) fundraising events, and (b) foundation grants.

What level and types of media exposure were you able to obtain and how did it affect/assist your efforts?

LOK has received overwhelmingly positive press attention, from local community press to national TV and international journals.

For example:

· General articles about our work appearing nationally generate visibility and promote our message.

· National coverage of our work in the Port Hope area brought renewed energy to a community fighting the effects of 50 years of nuclear waste.

· Local coverage brought LOK to the attention of several new funders.

Environmental Bureau of Investigation/ Lake Ontario Keeper
Krystyn Tully
Energy Probe Research Foundation
225 Brunswick Avenue
Toronto, ONT M5S 2M6
416-964-9223 (ext. 242) or 1-800-26.EARTH (ext. 242) 416-964-8239 (fax) 


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