Farms polluting Lake Huron
The Toronto Star
HURON COUNTY - An association of Huron County cottagers
wants Queen's Park to get tough with farmers who are being
blamed for polluting Lake Huron beaches.
A three-year, $18,000 study and recent DNA analysis concluded
that farms and not septic tanks or sewage treatment plants
are the major source of pollution and closures at beaches
in Huron County.
The claim is being challenged by the Huron Federation
Mike McElhone of the Ashfield-Colborne Lakefront Association,
which serves the users of 600 cottages, said the study
results prove the need for tougher laws to control farm
As it stands, the province's new Nutrient Management
Act is "unbelievably weak, among the weakest in North
America," McElhone said in an interview.
The problem rests squarely on the province's shoulders,
he said, because the act stripped municipal councils of
any authority to address the problem.
The act, which is being phased in, set rules for the
disposal of manure and other animal waste on farms.
The cottagers association is trying to arrange meetings
with provincial ministers of the environment, agriculture,
natural resources and municipal affairs to persuade them
of the need to crack down on farm pollution.
For more than 10 years, bad water quality has forced
periodic closures of Lake Huron beaches in Huron County.
The results of DNA testing this year of bacteria in water
samples proved what cottagers suspected for years, McElhone
said. The testing only became available in the last year,
and the group had to look to a Florida firm to have the
McElhone said 50 per cent of water samples taken at beaches
by the Huron County Health Unit during the 1990s failed
to meet provincial water-quality standards. Samples taken
over the last three years were as much as 83 times higher
than provincial standards for E. coli.
"The results have been absolutely frightening considering
the large numbers of children and adults who use the shoreline
for recreation," McElhone said.
But until recently, there was no way of knowing who was
"The cottagers blamed the farmers and the farmers
blamed the cottagers and one councillor said it was the
sea gulls' fault," McElhone said.
The testing was able to determine whether the bacteria
came from humans or animals.
The association paid for the study with the help of grants
from Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Township.
The Maitland Valley Conservation Authority chose the
sites and the township provided volunteers to help take
up to 200 samples year.
"While it is possible that the E. coli originates
from birds or wild animals, the possibility is extremely
remote," McElhone said.
Neil Vincent, president of the Huron Federation of Agriculture,
said that he had not seen the cottagers' study, but suggested
it is one of several done with conflicting conclusions.
"One study will say one thing and one will say another.
"I'd be an idiot to say there wasn't animal fecal
matter, but is it from farm animals or wild animals?
"The corridor along the Maitland River is heavily
inhabited by wild animals, deer, coons wild turkeys and
hundreds of thousands of Canada geese.
"I'm not saying none of it is getting off the farm,
but we do know there is a certain amount getting in from
Vincent said pointing fingers won't solve the problem.
"We all know we should be doing things better."
McElhone said malfunctioning septic tanks could also
be contributing to the problem. The association has recommended
a mandatory pump-out and inspection program to the township
and county councils.