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Great Lakes Article:

Water quality meeting focuses on unity
By Matt Shurrie
Signal-Star
12/03/03


CLINTON - Realizing water quality adversely affects everyone, interested parties agreed here last week to continue meeting on the issue during a day-long discussion hosted by the Huron County Health Unit.

Representatives from the health unit and a number of organizations including cottage associations, farm groups, members of the tourist industry, environmentalists and municipal leaders spent Nov. 28 looking at how water quality is currently measured and what they might do collectively to improve testing results along Lake Huron in the months and years to come.

" Everyone at this table has a study," Huron County Warden Dave Urlin said. "We need to sit down and put the studies together and come up with a solution."

While Urlinís statement certainly seemed to sum up the sentiment of the day it was Bluewater Shoreline Residents Association (BSRA) past president Bob Campbellís comments that made plenty of sense when he suggested the group look at the water quality issue through a wide angle lens as they move forward.

" This is not as complicated as we make it out to be," Campbell said. "We need to zero in on the issues and the next step should be zeroing in on those areas. We could spend 10 more years on looking at wind direction or we can just point the finger at ourselves. I think thatís a better idea."

Originally planned as a session to update stakeholders on how the health unitís water quality sampling process had been undertaken over the summer, recent national headlines calling Lake Huron a polluted mess sparked renewed interest. In fact, the meeting attracted close to 25 panellists and another 35 interested audience members.
After the morning session was spent outlining changes to water sampling with the health unitís Penny Nelligan and Pam Scarfe explaining the sampling process, any misconceptions that beaches along the shoreline have been closed - a common error found in national stories - were quickly cleared up.

While itís true that seven beaches are permanently posted - five along Lake Huron and two dams in Exeter and Wingham - the health unit made the decision to permanently post beaches in order to increase the amount of sampling at beaches deemed unstable.

" We are posting a warning - not closing the beaches," Scharfe said during her presentation.

University of Guelph scientists Michael Brodsky and Shu Chen also attended the session and explained the methods of sampling and the scientific background of E.coli.

" We all realize that over the last 150 years weíre all part of the problem," Urlin said during an open session amongst panellists. "However, we can all be part of the solution too and Iíd like to see a committee come out of this. Iím tired of pointing fingers at each other. Itís not whoís at fault because weíre all at fault and we have to work with provincial and federal governments to find a solution."

Ontario Ministry of the Environment representative Ron Bennett said there are three potential polluters contributing to Lake Huronís problems including cottagers, farmers and municipalities. However, he said itís important to realize that this problem has been ongoing for many years.

" Are we dealing with a new problem?" Bennett asked. "No. Weíre dealing with more people and a more educated public and the need for more information. I donít think that thereís any question that people want to do something."

Goderich Mayor Deb Shewfelt, who also serves as chair of Huron Countyís board of health, said Goderich continues to work on an extensive program to separate sewers and water systems. To date the town has invested millions of dollars to ensure that 98 per cent of all systems have been separated.

" We look forward to spending money to go further," Shewfelt said. "We know weíve been part of the problem but hopefully weíll be part of the future."

While the overall tone of the meeting was positive and one that looked ahead to find a solution, there clearly were times when the discussion became heated. Late in the meeting both the agriculture and tourism sectors clashed when farmers were accused of not doing more to help find a solution.

" We donít have a good feeling," said one bed and breakfast owner from the audience. "We donít want bad players."

Shewfelt interrupted saying itís time for Huron County and the health unit in particular to step up and take a leadership role in developing a model for the future.

" Itís time to pull a group together and time to try and come in with some solutions," Shewfelt said. "Right now weíre all shooting off in different directions but Iím pleased with what Iíve seen here."

While no date for future meetings were announced it is expected the health unit will host a similar meeting sometime in January.

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