Morningside Stream before
The Morningside Tributary is the last tableland trout stream in Toronto, it is part of the Rouge Park and it provides habitat for nationally rare red-side dace. Between 2001 and 2003, a 1400 metre reach of the Morningside Tributary was destroyed to allow developers to fill and build homes within the flood plain area.
Rampant Fish and Wildlife Habitat Destruction
To re-design the flood plain, developers were permitted to divert and channelize the stream, gouge-out a deeper but narrower flood plain, fill former flood plain areas and reconstruct the stream.
The developers also received permission to remove all the trees, shrubs, vegetation, topsoil and living things for a width of 100+ metres and a length 1400+ metres along this Rouge Park stream. Many fish and wildlife were killed or displaced, including a family of beavers, which were shot.
Shockingly, the City of Toronto, Ontario Municipal Board, federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) reviewed and "permitted" the developers' proposals without a public environmental assessment of alternatives. They boldly and incorrectly predicted "no significant adverse environmental effects with the implementation of mitigation".
Blue Green and Brown Algae and
Weeds Choke Reconstructed Stream
Eroding Banks of Reconstructed
Stream lead to Siltation Downstream
Shovel of silt and sand covered
bottom – poor substrate
Poor Compacted Soil Covered
with Plastic Mesh and Fabric.
DFO officials acknowledged that redside dace are sensitive to siltation due to erosion, removal of stream-side vegetation and water quality deterioration.
Why then would DFO and TRCA officials permit a plan that involves removal of all trees, vegetation, living things and topsoil for a width of over 100 metres and a length of more than 1400 metres along a sensitive trout stream with species of concern within a significant Park?
Many citizens and politicians were outraged by the rampant destruction of fish and wildlife habitat, including MP Derek Lee, Councilor Raymond Cho and other Rouge Park Alliance representatives.
The stream was diverted, for over 16 months, into a stone (rip rap) lined ditch with no shading, leading to water warming, excessive algal growth, oxygen depletion and downstream aquatic impacts.
Lengthy time extensions were granted for stream reconstruction, despite initial DFO permit stipulations that no extensions would be granted.
Monitoring Belies DFO and TRCA Conclusions
In response to the public outcry over the "permitted" destruction, DFO and TRCA officials stated that the reconstruction of the stream would "result in long term benefits to the natural form and function of the stream". However, FRW monitoring and the adjacent photographs demonstrate:
1. Water quality has deteriorated noticeably after stream reconstruction as evidenced by extensive nuisance blooms of algae and invasive aquatic weeds, indicators of polluted water;
2. Phosphate levels are elevated in the reconstructed stream to approximately two times higher than the provincial water quality standard;
3. Accelerated stream bank erosion is occurring in many areas, in spite of the filter cloth and plastic mesh, leading to siltation and habitat damage;
4. The stream bed (substrate) is coated with silt, sand and algae, creating a poor substrate for aquatic life including trout and redside dace;
5. Elevated water temperatures and pollutants from stormwater ponds are creating aquatic shocks after summer rainfall events;
6. Flood plain and riparian zone productivity has suffered long term harm because rich, deep, fluvial soils were replaced with poor, thin compacted soils covered with 100,000 square metres of plastic mesh and fabric; and
7. Colonization by invasive species has increased because the poor shallow soils provide a competitive advantage for invasive and non-native species.
Abuse of Fisheries Legislation and Policy
The "permitting" of such fish habitat destruction violates the very purpose and provisions of the federal Fisheries Act and Fish Habitat Policy and it undermines public faith in the integrity of the "permitting" process and the competence of government authorities.
The Ontario Environmental Commissioner appears to share our concerns, as outlined in the following conclusion from his 2001/02 Report (www.eco.on.ca):
"Ontario Ministries appear to be undermining the power and viability of the Fisheries Act by squabbling about enforcement responsibilities under the legislation. As a result, Ontario residents are being deceived about the extent of their rights under the EBR, and the legislation is not being effectively used to address water pollution threats and promote sustainable aquatic ecosystems."
The above photos and information belie the DFO and TRCA conclusion that the Morningside project would yield a net benefit for fish habitat.
Even if some recovery of fish habitat occurs in the long term, it does not alter the fact that significant and prolonged adverse environmental effects were permitted over a long section of a sensitive Rouge Park stream without a public environmental assessment of alternatives.
To avoid a recurrence of this habitat destruction and water pollution, we hope that DFO, TRCA, MOE and MNR will require thorough Fisheries Act and CEAA reviews for proposals that threaten to harm fish habitat. A thorough environmental assessment will promote better protection of fish habitat by requiring:
- A public examination of alternatives when developer plans involve harm to habitat;
- Avoidance of disturbance to riparian (streamside) vegetation, soils and habitat;
- Stormwater treatment and infiltration to reduce water pollution and peak flows;
- Performance bonds, regular monitoring and full enforcement of performance standards;
- Correction of the systemic problems identified by the Ontario Environmental Commissioner.