Freshwater Weekly – May 11th, 2018

Posted on May 11, 2018 by

This week: Farming and nutrient pollution + Ontario’s indigenous water crisis + Flint lead pipe replacement resumes + Ontario budget a win for the Great Lakes

Spring Weather Prompts Flint Lead Pipe Replacement to Resume

Flint’s City Council approved nearly $28 million in contracts to five different companies at a special meeting last Wednesday. The city aims to have approximately 6,000 lead service lines replaced by the end of this year, leaving an additional 6,000 to be completed in 2019. While lead levels have dropped precipitously in recent years, residents are justifiably still wary of the water coming out of their taps. Find links to our past coverage of Flint’s water crisis here.

For more information on which neighborhoods have had lines replaced or are expected to see lines replaced, check here. If you are a Flint resident, Freshwater Future highly recommends you grant the city permission to replace lead service lines from the main water line to your water meter. This is done at no cost to you. You can fill out the FAST Start Online Opt-In Form here.

When Nutrients Become Pollution

When excess nutrients exist in waterways, it can stimulate excessive algae growth, shift the composition of species, disrupt the food web, and create hypoxic conditions. Certain types of algae release their own toxic byproducts, and many can interact with treatment chemicals to create others. In drinking water, excess nitrogen takes the form of nitrates, which are dangerous to infants and expectant mothers at high levels.

Ohio’s impairment designation of Lake Erie and subsequent admission that years of efforts to reduce agricultural runoff have been unsuccessful have prompted renewed attention to the acute problem of nutrient pollution. An estimated 90% of excess nutrients flowing into Lake Erie from Ohio waters are from nonpoint, agricultural sources, and failure to act has lead to beach closures, drinking water advisories, and the infamous 2014 Toledo water crisis. While many farmers have implemented best-practices and experimented with cutting-edge technologies, it hasn’t been enough to realize the Ohio Phosphorous Task Force’s goal of reducing excess phosphorus flowing off farms by 40 percent—the amount needed to reduce or eliminate algal blooms in Lake Erie. Now, Ohio is considering a fundamental shift away from voluntary buy-in from agriculture and towards new mandatory regulations. Read more about the steps some farmers are taking to reduce their own impacts here.

Other Great Lakes states are also coming to terms with nutrient pollution in their own waterways. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s recently proposed groundwater protection rule would regulate the use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas of the state where soils are vulnerable to leaching and where drinking water supplies have high nitrate levels. And the EPA is currently investigating groundwater contamination from nitrates in Wisconsin.

Canada’s Indigenous Water Crisis Still Ongoing

What many Canadians and Americans take for granted every day has been an out-of-reach luxury for hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizens for decades. In 2015, there were 133 boil-water advisories in 93 different First Nation communities—the vast majority of which are in Ontario. Despite promises to end boil-water advisories for First Nations, the Trudeau government is still a long way from achieving that goal. As of the beginning of the month, 76 of those advisories were still in effect. Even in the more densely-populated areas of Southern Ontario, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation has been under an advisory for over 10 years. 53% of residents’ water wells there have tested positive for E. coli and fecal bacteria.

The causes are many, and contextualizing the current day crisis requires delving into Canada’s rich colonial history. But an undeniable component––according to Human Rights Watch––is the reality that the stringent and legally binding safe water standards of Canada’s provincial and territorial governments do not extend to First Nations communities. This has lead to systems being designed, constructed, and operated on reserves without the same kind of legal standards and protections that apply to all other Canadians. Of the dozens of drinking water advisories in effect on systems in Ontario First Nations, at least 57 of them are for systems less than 25 years old and 12 are for systems less than 15 years old.

To hear the water crisis from First Nation citizens themselves, we recommend checking out this Human Rights Watch produced video and this collection of stories compiled by VICE News. You can read the full Human Rights Watch report here and a summary of a new progress report by the Suzuki Foundation here.

Ontario’s 2018 Budget Makes Big Investments in Great Lakes

On Tuesday, Ontario passed its 2018 budget, which includes $52 million over three years in new funding to support Great Lakes conservation and restoration. Programs targeted for funding include monitoring and research on a variety issues (with a focus on Lake Erie), reducing pollution from combined sewer overflows, leveraging First Nation and Métis knowledge and implementing the Lake Erie Action Plan to reduce algae outbreaks.

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.