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Category Archives: Articles

Working with Media on Environmental Issues

Generating interest and support for environmental issues is challenging but necessary. Effective media  attention can garner public support and influence whether a corporation or government will address a problem. These notes and suggestions are meant to help others put together an action plan that strengthens your relationship with local print, radio and television media – an important step in raising awareness of issues of concern. Continue reading

Protect Your Home From Flooding

This spring has been the worst flooding Canada has seen in decades. Torrential rains have been inundating streets, homes, and forcing mandatory evacuations. Researchers write that floods are Canada’s ‘most common and costly natural hazard.’ In fact, flooding has become Canada’s biggest natural disaster problem in terms of insurance claims, which is now costing billions of dollars per year. So how can we prevent flooding, or at least be prepared when it comes? We’ve put together a list of facts and preventative measures you can take to protect your home from flooding. Continue reading

The People’s Great Lakes Summit

On Wednesday May 17, Linda Heron (Chair & Chief Executive Officer) and Samantha Restoule (Board of Directors) had the pleasure of representing the Ontario Rivers Alliance at the People’s Great Lakes Summit (the Summit), hosted by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) in Toronto, ON.

The Summit is part of CELA’s Healthy Great Lakes program. The objective of the Summit was to bring together a broad range of individuals and organizations working to protect and restore our waters and wetlands across the Great Lakes and St-Lawrence River Basin, and to connect, share ideas, strategize about Ontario public policy priorities, and set plans for collective action. Continue reading

Where the river begins

Dr. David Suzuki was amazed there was no jail time over this.

Dr. David Suzuki was amazed there was no jail time over this.

Mileage 111.6 and 88.7 are respectively synonymous with February 14th and March 7th of 2015. These significant numbers represent the locations and dates of the largest train derailments in the history of the province of Ontario. Two CN trains carrying Alberta tar sands crude oil derailed and exploded into huge fire balls one week and 23 miles apart, releasing millions of liters of bitumen crude oil into the environment. The first derailment, occurring in a remote wooded area, and the second at the bridge crossing the Makami River, less than 2 km from the Town of Gogama. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Hydroelectric – Greenhouse Gas Emissions

One of the most popular energy sources for Canada and globally has been hydroelectric power generation, and the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia are big fans of this particular energy source. One of the main reasons it is so popular is due to the abundance of water in Canada in the form of lakes and rivers that run throughout the provinces.

There was an article by the Montreal Gazette written back in 2011 that took a look at the Romaine River in Quebec and how it was about to turn into one of the biggest construction sites in Canada with the installation of 4 dams, 7 dikes, several large canals, and 279 square kilometers of reservoirs, all at the approximate cost of around $8 billion. What decision makers in Quebec failed to realize or choose to ignore is that harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are generated by reservoirs and they can be extensive and very damaging to the climate. Continue reading

Algonquin Park Brook Trout Populations Threatened

A summary of a presentation delivered to the Muskoka Field Naturalists (MFN) by Bob and Marj Wilton, in Gravenhurst on February 5th, 2015.   Written by John Challis, editor of “Wakerobin”, MFN newsletter.

As Mike Wilton tried to connect the dots to explain why forest management in Algonquin Park is threatening brook trout, one might confess to losing the thread.

There is a kaleidoscope of different sciences connecting cause and effect. But Mike and his wife Marj have been sleuthing through various disciplines for decades, and the evidence is stacking up. The interdisciplinary nature of their research reflects the fact that Algonquin’s ecology is an intertwining web of dependencies. Soil chemistry and rainfall chemistry, prevailing winds, hydrogeology, geology, logging techniques, road construction, invasive species, dendrology and silviculture, even glaciation: they all play a part—positively or negatively—in the breeding success of brook trout in the park. Continue reading

Energy East Pipeline Proposal – ORA meets Petawawa Town Council

On the 13th of April 2015, Dr Alan Hepburn, a member of ORA’s Board of Directors, made a presentation to the Petawawa Town Council to inform them of concerns regarding the Energy East Pipeline proposal.   Dr. Hepburn was very well received and plans to present to other municipalities along the Ottawa Valley pipeline route.

ORA is requesting that municipalities make a formal motion or declaration that they are unwilling hosts to the Energy East Pipeline as it is presently proposed.  You can find more detailed information about our concerns by checking out the presentation below.

A Daily Observer news article is posted here.

Download (PDF, 3.77MB)


It’s Nice to See the Light and the Shoes – by Noah Cunningham

A twelve year old from the Ottawa Valley has put his superhero storytelling to work in order to highlight excessive resource extraction.  The children’s chapter book, It’s Nice to See a Light and the Shoes, was endorsed by the Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA).  “While this is just a fictional tale, there are many parallels to some of the challenges communities face when a hydroelectric dam takes control of a river they depend on, and where very few benefit at the expense of many,” relates Linda Heron, ORA Chair.  “ORA highly recommends this creative and humorous tale of a community showing up to shine a light on an injustice, and in the process find an unlikely hero in their midst.”

Author and illustrator, Noah Cunningham says, “I wanted to show how a community could be affected when a private corporation, Water Enclosure Society (W.E.S.) takes away the water from the river for power and profit.” Cunningham further reflects on reality around us, “You don’t see it, but it’s happening,” he adds, when discussing excessive resource extraction without much thought to the balance of the ecosystem.  He says he decided to get the entire community to step up in his fictional superhero story, where two detectives and a dog set out to save the planet and their town from corporate villains. If allowed to do their dastardly deeds, W.E.S. would not only own hydro power but the water too, taking it for their own profit.  Cunningham says anyone can be a superhero if they just stand up for what they believe in.

Of ORA’s endorsement, the author and illustrator is excited, “The organization is like the community in my book all put together. They are doing awesome stuff that I wanted the people in my book to do.”

Cunningham, who usually writes superhero stories, says he accumulated the characters through suggestions by his family and the character, Mr. Micman, is actually his own wiener dog.

So what’s next for the superhero writer, well he is already busy writing a sequel where the sun goes missing.

Cunningham’s book can be purchased through contacting him via his website  or through General Store Publishing House .  The illustrated chapter book retails for $9.95 and is targeted to kids ages 9 to 13.

Principles of Riverine Health, by Frederick Schueler

One of the triumphs of the 2014 Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA)  Annual General Meeting was the realization that, while the fight against the misguided Feed in Tariff (FIT) meso-scale hydro projects was an ongoing struggle, we could see light at the end of the tunnel.  We needed to begin to implement a broader consideration of the health of rivers that we’re mandated to address, perhaps working towards a publication on criteria of health for Ontario rivers.

Googling riverine health brings up two sets of criteria. These either suggest that “minimally altered watersheds are intrinsically healthy, because their key process regimes are, by definition, within the natural range of variation,”[1] or they tend to emphasize the services the “healthy” stream can provide to human observers or exploiters.

Ever since I had my mind blown by the density of ideas in Valerius Geist’s classic Life strategies, human evolution, environmental design: toward a biological theory of health,[2] I’ve valued his definition of organic health as phenotypic development that maximizes the expression of the characteristics that distinguish a species from its relatives (in the case of humanity including large brain, high capacity for exercise due to evaporative cooling, manual & bodily dexterity, highly developed intellect & language, music, tool manufacture & use, dance, visual mimicry, role playing, altruism, humor, self-control, complex traditions, and long life span).

If we import Geist’s biological criterion into the “health” of rivers, it’s clear that  what makes them different from other habitats is that they are lentic (flowing) rather than lotic (standing). This means that what we’re looking for in a healthy stream is expressions of the consequences of water moving downstream. On this basis, I’ve come up with a 3-point conceptualization. The first two points are consequences of the flow itself, and the third is about differentiation among rivers:

1) Continuity (channel, flow regimes, migration, long-lived species) – The connectedness of rivers can be broken in either time or space. In its early years ORA has mostly been defending continuity, since dams break dispersal and flow in diverse ways (and by creating impoundments, reduce the difference between the river and standing water). Lakes, the alternative kind of water, are geologically temporary, since they fill in with sediment or drain when their sills are eroded down, but as long as rain falls, rivers will flow, and almost always in the channels that they have flowed in before. All our lakes date from the recent retreat of the Ice, but at least north to the Arctic Watershed, Ontario rivers are geologically confluent with streams which have been flowing south across North America since the Paleozoic. Another aspect of healthy continuity – or indication that continuity has been preserved – is long-lived stream creatures with complex life histories, such as Unionid mussels, Sturgeon, Eels, Turtles, and Mudpuppies.

2) Oligotrophy (net watershed ombrotrophy, filter-feeding, wetlands) –  One of the primary goals of conventional river conservation has been preventing organic and nutrient pollution, whether from point sources or through runoff or groundwater. The reason such nutrient loading is unnatural is that mature  terrestrial plant communities characteristically strip most of the mineral nutrients out of the water they process, so the biota of a river is adapted to water that has a lower concentration of nutrients than precipitation – what I’ve called ‘net ombrotrophy.’[3] Another consequence of flow is that there’s minimal nutrient recycling in any particular reach of a river – photosynthetic production and filter-feeding both depend on extracting nutrients from the thin broth that’s flowing downstream, and anything that gets up into the current is lost downstream unless it’s moved back upstream in the body of some current-breasting creature.

3) Endemicity (biogeographic integrity, biodiversity, native rather than alien species) – Because they flow for so long in constrained channels, which many of their creatures either can’t or won’t leave, rivers and streams provide venues for evolutionary adaptation to local conditions. South of the limits of glaciation the number of species of locally endemic fish, Unionid mussels, Crayfish, and Salamanders is astonishing.  In Ontario we don’t have species-level differentiation, but we do have different faunas dependent on how species colonized through post-glacial lakes, and every local population is specially adapted to its situation, and every twist and reach of a stream has its own community. Maintaining the distinctiveness of a river means working to prevent extinction of local populations, and avoiding the introduction of alien species that will make all invaded streams more similar to each other.

All of this converges on the conventional idea that “minimally altered watersheds are intrinsically healthy, because their key process regimes are, by definition, within the natural range of variation,” and the resulting idea that a measure of “health” would “appropriately be based on the extent to which watershed process regimes are modified relative to the baseline, or their natural ranges of variation,”[4] but I think it helps to think about riverine health in these three categories, just as we conventionally think of human health as being determined by the physical conditions of life, social environment, and exposure to pathogenic organisms.

So the lesson for river lovers is to rejoice in whatever you’ve got, but when there’s a chance, move towards a healthier state. This is just a first sketch of  these ideas: if this approach and these points stand up to scrutiny we’ll need to expound them and find ways to make nontechnical readers comfortable enough with the language that they can assimilate the meaning of the points and apply them in practical conservation.

You can contact Fred at [email protected]


[1]    Atlantic Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Healthy Watersheds Integrated Assessments Workshop Synthesis. contribution AED-11-051, December 2011, 81 pp.\zyfiles\Index%20Data\11thru15\Txt\00000003\P100DXBV.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h|-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=p|f&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL
[2]   1978, New York, Springer-Verlag, 495 pp
[3]   Schueler, Frederick W. 1989. Feeding from the clouds: Net ombrotrophy as a measure of the health of landscapes. Trail & Landscape 23(3):122-125 –
[4]   link to the same document as #1

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