Speaker envisions Don River the way it was… clean

Fredelle Brief remembers a time when people used to swim in the Don River.

Those days are long gone, but the public consultation facilitator for the City of Toronto is hopeful that the river can one day be restored to its former pristine condition.

Brief was a guest speaker at the Friday meeting of the Leaside chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women. She described the city’s Central Waterfront Project and its efforts to restore the polluted Don to its previous state to the over 50 members in attendance.

“We want the Don River to be the way it was a hundred years ago,” she said.

Currently, the river does not meet provincial water quality objectives and has been labeled an “area of concern” by the city. It is one of the most sullied ecosystems in Toronto, and the reasons are plentiful.

“Firstly, wet weather flow, which is the runoff caused by heavy rainfall or snowfall, creates pollution for the Don River,” Brief explained.

Brief said that rain or snow accumulates on roads, roofs and parking lots. As it travels on these surfaces, the water collects debris and dirt and enters Toronto’s storm sewer system.

Brief  also revealed that the issue is a modernized problem.

“It was all right when the storm water went into the soil, but it isn’t right now,” she said.

With synthetic surfaces, the excess runoff water collects such pollutants as oil and metal pesticides that eventually end up in streams. Storm water pollution causes a high concentration of bacteria and creates poor water quality by producing high levels of metal and organic toxins.

Problems also lie in Toronto’s infrastructure. When it was originally built, the storm water route and sewage systems were combined underground. Today, the abundance of synthetic surfaces causes the storm water to overflow in the sewer system; the sanitary waste and sewer water combine.

“The sanitary waste is going into the sewer system and directly into the lake,” Brief said. “And that’s what we want to do something about. That’s what we want to capture and treat.”

She suggests the city install an additional sewer to collect the polluted water before sending it down to the Ashbridges Bay Plant.

“The Coxwell trunk… gathers all the sewage that is going down to Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant.… We need flexibility with this trunk,” she said.

Brief believes there are different ways people can contribute to solving this environmental concern at home. She said installing water-efficient appliances will help prevent sewer systems from being taxed at maximum capacity and planting trees will absorb excess storm water, putting less strain on the sewer system.