Algae returns as Ajax news maker of the year

AJAX — Last year at this time, the algae attack on the Town’s waterfront was the news maker of the year.

Well, a year later and it’s still, in our view, the top Ajax story. It even tops the municipal election, in which Ajax went with Internet voting and a completely paperless process. It also led to a five-per-cent increase in voter turnout.

But, the continued fouling of the entire waterfront by algae trumps the election.

Ajax officials have invested a lot of money and energy into dealing with the issue, including hiring a team of scientists to study the problem. The team found that the Duffin Creek water pollution control plant was the culprit.

The plant is jointly owned by Durham and York regions and they dispute that claim, saying algae is a problem in Lake Ontario.

Dr. Martin Auer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University and expert in nuisance algae, was retained by Ajax to examine the problem along the lakefront.

“There’s areas of Lake Ontario where they have an infestation, they have nuisance conditions. This extends into Toronto. We haven’t seen anything much worse than this,” Dr. Auer said.

In November, Dr. Auer released his report, which noted, “It is concluded that the Duffin Creek WPCP is the appropriate focus for management actions seeking to remediate nuisance conditions of cladophora growth and restore lost beneficial uses along the Ajax, Ontario waterfront.”

For Ajax officials, the Auer report findings confirmed their suspicions.

Ward 3 local Councillor Joanne Dies said she’s not surprised by the report’s findings.

“No, not for me. I’ve been living and breathing it for the passed couple of years. It’s nice to have the scientific data to back it up,” Coun. Dies said. “The sewage plant is the main source point of the problem.”

The plant was expanded a few years ago, primarily to deal with development in York. The expanded plant could discharge up to 630 million litres a day, up from 340 million litres per day.

The discharge, called effluent, carries phosphorous, which the algae feeds on.

The regions were ordered by the provincial government to do an environmental assessment of the outfall pipe, which extends about one kilometre out into the lake. Ajax wants the pipe extended further out, to about three kilometres. At that distance, the effluent coming out of the pipe would mix and the phosphorous wouldn’t be there for the algae to feed on.

The EA was submitted to the provincial Ministry of the Environment earlier this year, with all parties waiting for a resolution. The ministry could agree with the Regions and leave the pipe as is. Ajax has said it would seek legal action if that’s the decision.

The ministry could order a more stringent study be conducted, which Ajax would support.

John Presta, the director of environmental services for Durham, said algae is “a lake-wide problem. You can take a look at Lake Erie. The algae there is worse than Lake Ontario. The algae mats are worse than the Ajax and Pickering waterfront, near Sand Banks in the Quinte area.”

He said the Region doesn’t think the water pollution control plant is the major contributor to the algae problem.

“Yes, phosphorous is a contributor. So is the clarity of the water. Zebra mussels came into the lake and have allowed light to go deeper in the water. Zebra mussels contribute also,” Mr. Presta noted.

“To point your finger at the plant isn’t correct. We’ve made a number of upgrades to the plant in the past few years. The efficiency of the plant has improved,” Mr. Presta noted.

He said about 94 per cent of the phosphorous has been removed from the effluent. Removing 99 per cent “won’t cause the algae to disappear. It’s a lake-wide problem.”

 

Photo: Algae buildup. Ryan Pfeiffer / Metroland. AJAX — Dr. Martin Auer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University, conducted fieldwork on the Ajax waterfront, the site of some of the most extensive buildup of algae in the Great Lakes. September 11, 2014.

View original article at: Algae returns as Ajax news maker of the year

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