Fall 2003
At the Forks

Vol. 10, Issue 2  

Features:

Fabulous Farlinger and Eglinton Ravines
by Jurgen Braunohler


A young member of the Farlinger stewardship group enjoying Taylor Massey Creek. Photo by M. Dennison.
  

Entering Farlinger Ravine north from Foxridge Drive, the northern boundary of Pine Hills Cemetery, the downhill stretch into the ravine just west of the slow-moving river revealed very little at first. We were headed upstream, walking through an area where a crew of 70 people had done a clean-up in May, leaving the area spotless and natural-looking. The effort from the spring quickly hit home, as a group of ducks went cruising by on the water. Purple Chicory enlivened the thickening greenery, and I suddenly found myself in yet another one of Toronto's hidden natural gems.

Walking along the west bank, we came across something not seen too often: peoples' homes along the trail, and we stopped to chat with a resident working in his backyard. The area in which the trail was located here has narrowed to ten feet in width, hinting at possible problems that could be caused by future erosion of the creek bank. But the banks were lined with trees including many maples: trees that help prevent erosion; trees that provide shade over the river; trees that make the place look beautiful.

Nearby, a series of tiny rapids in the Creek can be seen or heard every now and then. Here, scale is everything: the rapids, the trees, the back yards, and the trail, each a fiber in a ribbon of the community in harmony with nature.

As we progressed, more miniature rapids appeared. There was a small pool beneath a stormwater outfall, and there were signs of flooding with grasses flattened by the water and bits of flotsam caught in low-hanging tree branches.

We passed the site where a FODE community planting will take place in October, with the houses back a little further, the floodplain a little wilder, and greenery speckled with white Queen Anne's Lace and the yellow of Goldenrod all around us.

Halfway into the walk, we climbed an embankment, crossed the railway tracks, and passed into Eglinton Ravine Park for the final stretch of our journey. Much of the same scenery surrounded us, but with one difference: here we were accompanied for several minutes by a number of Monarch butterflies.

Seventy metres south of and within sight of Eglinton, the river swerved in front of us, cutting off any further progress, right where the ravine levels out into a regular park. While the Creek could be forded here under normal flows, this is the location of one of the two bridges being called for by FODE, so that eventually people can walk all the way from Lawrence Avenue to the Forks of the Don, and indeed on to Lake Ontario.

Right at our feet was a final note from nature taking charge: a disintegrating gabion basket intended to reinforce the shoreline. The basket had been destroyed, and a solitary tree had poked its way right through it, demonstrating nature's effectiveness in shoring up the creek banks, and doing it in a more attractive way than with rocks and wire.

Jurgen Braunohler has written regularly for At The Forks about his explorations of the Don watershed. A compilation of some of his best articles from past issues will be published soon.

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Toronto Needs an Environmental Commissioner
by Andrew McCammon

As we send this edition of At the Forks off to the printer, two important issues head to Toronto City Council for its meeting of September 22-24. The first is Wet Weather Flow; the second a document entitled the Environmental Plan Status Report. Both provide significant reasons why Toronto needs an Environmental Commissioner.

Wet Weather Flow


Photo by A. Lynch.
  

The Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) distills both a 100-year $4 billion dollar framework and a 25-year $1 billion first phase to address basement flooding, reduce the flow of sanitary sewage to local receiving waters, and to reduce and in some cases treat wet weather runoff, which is both the largest source of pollution to local watercourses and which provides peak flows that harm natural habitat.

The WWFMP takes a courageous if at times misguided approach to addressing some of the major problems in our sanitary and stormwater sewer systems and presents a reasoned financial framework, averaging $40 million per year. Naturally, it is not perfect, and community organizations have expressed many concerns: that the $500 million plan for the downtown core is unnecessarily costly and somewhat ineffective; that two proposed "deflector arms" to be built into Lake Ontario have not received appropriate local nor technical review; and that the Plan has not met a suggested test for public consultation.

FODE's comments, submitted August 11 and available on our website under Issues, stem from one central problem: that the Plan is too focused on engineering instead of integrated watershed planning. As a result, while we accept that much of the costly infrastructure of new pipes and tunnels is required, we deplore the lack of detail on green infrastructure. For example, while there are maps and cost estimates developed by consultants to cover the costs of pouring concrete, the details on green infrastructure-including the locations of proposed ponds, areas where eroded stream channels are to be naturalized, and areas targeted for increased streamside planting-consist of coloured areas on maps that have not been groundtruthed, lack technical standards, and have budgetary figures that are not well-founded in reality. As a result, FODE's submission of August 11 suggested an amendment to the Plan to establish a guaranteed minimum expenditure on green infrastructure, regardless of potential cost overruns on concrete.

We are pleased to report, just as we head to press, that our suggested amendment to the WWFMP was moved by Councillor Pitfield and accepted by Council on September 22, 2003.

We have also suggested that the City develop an integrated watershed management approach to sewers, water quality, natural heritage protection, and bylaw enforcement, as well as that the City create an Environmental Commissioner to facilitate more pro-active inter-departmental co-operation on environmental issues. We believe that only an Environmental Commissioner would have the clout to ensure the establishment of a level playing field in Toronto to balance the demands for more concrete against the imperative to protect the natural environment.

Environmental Plan

Also to be considered at the September meeting of Council was a document entitled the Environmental Plan Status Report. The Environmental Plan, entitled "Clean, Green and Healthy: A Plan for an Environmentally Sustainable Toronto," was accepted by Council in April 2000, and was designed to improve the health of the environment as well as to support both economic growth within and the social well being of the City.

The Status Report provides an evaluation of progress to date on the implementation of the 66 recommendations and over 300 actions contained in the Plan, and is an important step in the establishment of improved environmental accountability within the City. While an interesting compilation of raw data, the Status Report brings to light two serious issues about the Environmental Plan.

First of all, it inappropriately combines two completely different evaluation criteria, stating that projects and actions have been developed or implemented with respect to 73 percent of the Environmental Plan recommendations. This is both wildly over-optimistic and self-serving, as actions that have barely begun are not nearly equivalent to actions that have been completed. Nor is a statement that an action that has been completed, or if work on it is just starting, an indication that the action has been or is appropriate, effective, or properly resourced.

Secondly, in its own words, here is what FODE considers the most important sentence in the Status Report: "City Council approved the Environmental Plan in principle but did not deal with the specific budget and resource implications of implementing the Plan." The Status Report then avoids any suggestions about the development of a proper implementation plan. Had the Status Report been prepared by an independent Environmental Commissioner, the Report would not contain the greenwash of the 73%, nor the continuing absence of an Implementation Plan.

Environmental Commissioner

For our part, FODE works with many professionals in the City, and we see their dedication and the time it takes to develop solutions to complex problems. Over the last few years, Toronto has benefited from the development of the City's Sewer Use Bylaw, the Natural Heritage Study in the new Official Plan, the Ravine Bylaw, and the recent the Pesticide Bylaw.

We understand that the City of Toronto is a complex entity with a billion dollar budget, 39,000 employees, and a breadth of environmental issues rivaled by few organizations in the world. It is only reasonable, therefore, to accept that developing an over-arching administrative framework and a responsible budget for the Environmental Plan will take years, and that the WWFMP is, as defined at the Works Committee meeting of September 4, a work in progress.

Nevertheless, the deficiencies revealed through both the WWFMP and the Environmental Plan Status Report are strategic and systematic in nature, and they demand redress. While there are several possible solutions, FODE believes the City would be best served by the creation of a senior, independent position in the City: that of an Environmental Commissioner.

The Commissioner should be modeled after the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario; report independently to Council; require that City departments develop and report progress relating to Statements of Environmental Values; co-ordinate environmental training and auditing services for City staff; and provide annual and other reports as needed to the City. We believe that only an Environmental Commissioner can champion the environment as needed, secure the necessary resources, develop the needed tools, command the required inter-departmental cooperation, and report fairly on progress.

We ask Council to create an Environmental Commissioner, and we ask our members, as well as members of the public, to ask candidates in the up-coming municipal election if they support the creation of an Environmental Commissioner for the City and, if not, how they intend to ensure that this City continues to manage the environment in a responsible manner that will contribute to a healthy and sustainable future for our City. This City needs an Environmental Commissioner.

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New Distribution for At the Forks

This edition of At the Forks inaugurates a new method of distribution. In the past, we have provided copies of the newsletter to our members, elected officials, and government agencies and staff. We also dropped about 4,000 copies at local libraries, community centres, and businesses. This represented a huge staff and volunteer effort, as well as a lot of paper, without knowing its benefits.

Starting with this issue, we begin dropping newsletters to what we call Neighbourhood Nodes: areas in proximity to the Don River or Taylor Massey Creek where residents have access to and enjoy their local ravines. If you are receiving At the Forks for the first time, we hope you enjoy it and will consider becoming a member.

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Tenth AGM Set for November 16

  It's hard to believe: Labour Day has just passed and, while we do have several fall events to enjoy, by the time you receive this it will be less than two months to our tenth Annual General Meeting, to be held November 16 at Todmorden Mills.

As usual, the AGM will start with a pot luck dinner, present the awards for Another Yard, and include the AGM proper to deal with FODE business and elect an executive for the coming year. It is one of the truly endearing aspects of FODE, mixing food, fellowship on watershed stewardship, and organizational business.

If you wish to help, get more involved next year, or even seek election to the Board, please contact us at 416 657-2800 or drop an e-mail to info@fode.ca. In addition, to help commemorate the end of our tenth year, the Board is working on a number of special elements to make the evening memorable, and to ensure success for our eleventh year. Members old and new are encouraged to come out November 16. Between now and then, renew or obtain a membership, and come out to one of the other events listed on our Calendar.

6:00 Doors Open; Coffee's on; Food's out

6:15 Pot luck supper begins

7:15 Special 10th Annual Commemorative Publication

7:30 Awards: 4th Annual Another Yard for the Don

8:00 10th Annual General Meeting

8:30 Speaker: Chris Winter, Co-ordinator, Ontario Smart Growth Network
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FODE is a membership-based non-profit organization working to protect and enhance the Don River and to encourage the establishment of healthy and sustainable communities within the central and eastern portions of the Don watershed, Toronto, Ontario. © 2004