EXPLORE THE BAY

2017 Harbour Report Card

The 2017 Towards Safe Harbour Report Card provides citizens from across the watershed with a brief but informed and comprehensive indication of the progress and challenges in completing the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan.

Is the Harbour a healthy place for things to live?
Do things actually live there? Are those things contaminated?

These three grades reflect our collective progress in meeting the measurable goals of the RAP. The forecasts are an indication of where we’re going to be in another few years.

HEALTHY WATER AND HABITAT

FORECAST: 

The benefits of our success in addressing specific issues such as wastewater management and the restoration of riparian habitat are being overshadowed by the negative impacts of larger, system-wide challenges. As a community, our ability to improve Harbour water quality has never been stronger, but our technology and processes must keep up with challenges posed by regional population growth, land development and climate change.

Is the Harbour a healthy place for things to live?


HEALTHY HARBOUR WATER QUALITY

Wastewater treatment/effluent quality entering the Harbour vastly improved with upgrades to Burlington’s Skyway (completed) and Hamilton’s Woodward (underway) sewage treatment plants

Improved Hamilton sewer system through control of flow, gates, pumps and overflow tanks in real time

Science is improved, although it’s giving us a better understanding of how poor conditions persist

Phosphorus levels remain relatively unchanged for many years

Projections for population increase and related development in the watershed; uncertainty about the adoption of improved stormwater management across the watershed

Lack of dissolved oxygen remains problematic for most of the Harbour, especially where the water is deeper

Water quality in the marshes has improved, although it is still worse than in the Harbour where progress on improving water quality has largely flatlined


RESTORE FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT

Spatial quantity of restored aquatic habitat in the Harbour attained, half attained in the marshes

Riparian habitat has improved spawning areas in the watershed

Management of phragmites and carp

Management of species at risk in the marshes

Funding for further opportunities to implement habitat restoration is limited

Further carp control necessary for Grindstone river mouth restoration

Quality of habitat is poor due to poor water quality

Climate change and high and low water levels all challenge our assumptions, targets and goals for what’s possible


BEACHES OPEN AT WEST END OF HARBOUR

City of Hamilton pursuing resolution to water quality issues at Bayfront Park

Some waterfowl management measures are continuing with hope for renewed and reliable approach to resolving issues/improving water quality at beaches

Water quality at the beaches has decreased in recent years

2016 closure of Bayfront beach and poor 2016 test results at Pier 4


WATER VIEWS AND AESTHETICS

Improved control of Hamilton’s combined sewers in real-time

Many non-BUI related clean-up programs and projects

Lack of clarity on needs for BUI delisting




FISH AND WILDLIFE POPULATIONS

FORECAST: 

The health of the Harbour’s fish and wildlife populations continues to vary dramatically from species to species. Success in re-introducing walleye, a top native predator, is countered by a nearshore fish community dominated by non-native and pollution-tolerant species. Colonial bird communities are doing relatively well, but poor water quality threatens native fish population recovery. We anticipate more positive developments as we continue to improve water quality, invest in species re-introduction efforts, control invasive species and restore additional habitat.

Do things actually live there?


RESTORE FISH POPULATIONS

Walleye stocking continues; studies planned to determine natural reproduction

Water quality improvements expected from upgrades at Woodward (under construction) and Dundas (planning stage) water treatment plants

Nearshore fish community remains impaired, dominated by non-native and pollution-tolerant species

Abundance of many native species is declining

Index of biotic integrity (IBI) is less than what’s required and hasn’t improved in many years

Threats include poor water quality, increasing diversity and abundance of non-native/invasive species, development in the watershed, and habitat degradation


RESTORE WILDLIFE POPULATIONS

Colonial bird community doing relatively well

Bald Eagles returned to nest and breed in the forest adjacent Cootes Paradise marsh

Some mammal species doing well (although not a BUI target)

Do we have the research and monitoring necessary to gauge progress towards BUI targets?




TOXIC CONTAMINANTS AND SEDIMENT

FORECAST: 

The construction of the Randle Reef containment facility is the single most significant step forward in containing toxic sediment in the Harbour. It is not, however, the only step. There are still areas beyond Randle Reef that are contaminated, but there is progress being made on other known sediment sources and deposits. Importantly, the contamination of fish and wildlife is slowly declining overall, and continuing clean up will lead to further reductions in exposure to and the effects of toxic deposits.

Are those things contaminated?


CLEAN UP CONTAMINATED SEDIMENT IN THE HARBOUR

Randle Reef – completion of the Environmental Containment Facility; anticipation of dredging and capping

Dofasco boat slip – selection of management options and environmental assessment process

Windermere Arm – characterization of sources of contaminated sediment... long time coming!

Strathearne Slip – characterization of sources of contaminated sediment... long time coming! This one in particular is the last known active source of PCBs

Most contaminants will remain exposed to the ecosystem for many years

Slow progress on most of these projects, however

Potential for additional sources to be discovered


REDUCE CONTAMINANT LEVELS IN FISH AND WILDLIFE

Comprehensive study of fish contaminant levels and statue completed: PCBs are much lower than historical levels although still elevated compared to reference sites

Background report on wildlife data completed, although no reference material such as consumption guidelines

Despite remaining legacy toxic contamination issues, results of new science indicate relatively/mostly good news for birds, turtles and frogs

Continuing investment in the necessary science and connect status to delisting

Impacts of poor water quality/wastewater effluent in Cootes remains a threat




Achieving progress in the Harbour demands that we manage human activity around the Harbour, by gathering and sharing adequate information, engaging and educating citizens and by acting on new ideas.

These three measures reflect the collective learning and work habits of the RAP community in meeting the challenges of restoring Hamilton Harbour.

RESEARCH AND MONITORING

EFFORT: 

Compared to other badly polluted bays and rivers on the Great Lakes, research and monitoring of Hamilton Harbour have been extraordinary and have benefited from recent investment in the science behind restoring habitat, water quality, aquatic plants and fish and wildlife. However, there are still significant gaps in research and monitoring related to several restoration goals. Closing these gaps and coordinating a wider range of research and monitoring will be necessary to generate the information and the informed action required for completing the RAP. Monitoring nonpoint sources may require new approaches not currently in use in the Harbour.

MONITOR HARBOUR ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS

Increased investment in science and monitoring for habitat, water quality, fish, aquatic plants, wildlife, benthos

Improvements ongoing but further enhancements needed in coordination of research and monitoring

Need to improve the capacity for monitoring pollutants related to public health and BUIs

Need to know more about issues limiting fish and wildlife reproduction

Renewed emphasis on phosphorus and sediment, new reports and consensus recommendations

Need to improve the capacity for monitoring contaminants and nutrients related to water quality downstream and BUIs




WATERSHED MANAGEMENT

EFFORT: 

Recent RAP emphasis on source reduction of sediment and phosphorus in the watershed is promising, but corresponding changes in public policy and management strategies remain uncertain. Numerous management plans related to the RAP have been developed or updated recently, although challenges remain in linking these specifically to the RAP’s completion. The impact of positive steps – like evolving farming practices and Hamilton’s improved control of its combined sewers in real time – are contributing to better water quality, but those benefits are reduced by the influence of changing land uses and development across the watershed.

CONTROL EROSION AND IMPLEMENT STORMWATER MANAGEMENT (URBAN AND RURAL)

Renewed emphasis on phosphorus and sediment, new reports and consensus recommendations

Ontario to release updated Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual in 2017 that will require the application of low-impact development techniques

Improved water quality resulting from a shift in farming practices

Rapid pace of development, limits on capacity and authority of regulatory and planning agencies

Lack of overall assessment or understanding of activities and impacts


COMPLETE AND IMPLEMENT WATERSHED PLANS AND WASTEWATER PLANS

Hamilton stormwater masterplan updated in 2007

Hamilton CA update of Lower Spencer Integrated Subwatershed Plan nearly complete. Conservation Halton has Grindstone Watershed Study on hold currently as it moves to an Integrated Watershed Planning model. Cootes to Escarpment Management Plan for Clappison-Grindstone Heritage Lands includes watershed plan-type recommendations, including some related to stormwater management

Further progress often limited by status of provincial policy requirements


REDUCE OR ELIMINATE DISCHARGES

City of Hamilton’s improved control of its combined sewers in real-time




PUBLIC INFORMATION, EDUCATION AND ACCESS

EFFORT: 

Area residents know more about and have more ways to get to and enjoy Hamilton Harbour than ever before. Educational programs continue to expand, including enhanced subwatershed report cards and multi-agency public outreach, while projects at Windermere Basin and the West Harbour along with future residential and commercial development at Pier 8 are enhancing recreational shoreline access. Key challenges include fostering excellence in design and accurate public perceptions of RAP progress and challenges, as well as ensuring that the public connects downstream water quality issues with their own upstream activities.

EDUCATE WATERSHED RESIDENTS REGARDING LAND STEWARDSHIP

Long-term on-going urban and rural landowner outreach continues, new emphasis on Low Impact Development techniques

Subwatershed report cards

Multiple agency stewardship programming across the watershed

Measure of impact needed


INCREASE PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE HARBOUR SHORELINE

Some new physical access at Cootes, Valley Inn, Windermere

BARC's web app for self-directed tours and website research portal; BARC and RBG working on digital canoe routes

Beginning of implementation of West Harbour Recreational Master Plan and Setting Sail objectives for new residential development at Pier 8

Accurate measure of accessible shoreline needed, with improved information available at access points


INCREASE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING AND APPRECIATION OF THE HARBOUR AND WATERSHED

Continued and improved multi-agency programming in schools, at community events and on trails and at other access points (BARC, RBG, HWT, C2E, etc.)

Continued challenge of connecting downstream water quality issues with upstream human activities





This report card is a measure of the progress and success of the Hamilton Harbour RAP over the past five years. Produced and released in June 2017 by BARC’s Board of Directors under advisement by its staff and Technical Advisory Committee, it summarizes the evidence underpinning a consensus of more than forty professionals from partner agencies within the Hamilton Harbour RAP community. BARC thanks those colleagues for their contribution.
 
BARC especially thanks the members of its Technical Advisory Committee:
Martin Keller (chair), Grand River Conservation Authority
Kim Barrett, Conservation Halton
Duncan Boyd, Ontario Ministry of the Environment (emeritus)
Vic Cairns, Fisheries & Oceans Canada (emeritus)
Murray Charlton, Environment Canada (emeritus)
Ed DeBruyn, Fisheries & Oceans Canada (emeritus)
Chris McLaughlin, Bay Area Restoration Council
Maureen Padden, McMaster University
Scott Peck, Hamilton Conservation Authority
Mary Ellen Scanlon, Ontario Ministry of the Environment (emeritus)
Andy Sebestyen, US Steel Canada
Tys Theysmeyer, Royal Botanical Gardens
 
BARC also gratefully acknowledges the support of Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and the Hamilton Port Authority in producing and distributing this report card. Their support does not indicate an endorsement of this document.