One of the issues raised during the recent debate over the delayed Second Avenue project was concerns about untreated stormwater entering Ramsey Lake.
The $5.7-million plan would have widened the roadway to five lanes from Donna Drive to Scarlett Avenue, raising concerns about increased stormwater getting into Ramsey. That's because pavement doesn't absorb rain, so adding lanes to a roadway increases the amount of stormwater runoff.
In a letter to Northern Life, Minnow Lake Community Action chair John Lindsay said it was time to take a stand on protecting Ramsey, one of the main sources of drinking water in Greater Sudbury.
“What we have done is to take the opportunity presented by the (Ministry of Environment) though this process to draw a line in the sand with respect to storm water discharge,” Lindsay wrote. “The closing of beaches over the past few years for ever increasing lengths of time ... are just an indication of the seriousness of the situation for our largest recreational body of water and major drinking water source.”
Lindsay's letter was one of two sent to the MOE requesting a more intensive environmental review of the Second Avenue project, delaying the work for this construction season. But in his letter, he said the stormwater issue was the “main element” of his objections.
“A number of groups, including the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, have been calling for the (Ramsey Lake) watershed study, but while endorsing this endeavour, council has yet to approve any expenditure.”
Ramsey is a 792.9-hectare waterbody that provides drinking water to about 60,000 people in Greater Sudbury. There are 298 permanent homes along the shore, and 25 seasonal residences. A 2003 study found that years of exposure to mining, smelting, septic tank leakage, runoff from fertilizer-rich lawns and stormwater has created an “accumulation of 50 to 60 centimetres of metal and organic rich sediment in its depths, which must be managed to provide a continuing source of potable water for the city.”
This summer, beaches on the lake have been closed from time-to-time because of the presence of blue-green algae blooms, a toxic plant believed to be caused by septic tank leakage and lawn fertilizer getting into lakes, raising the phosphorus and nitrogen levels, and climate change.
A bylaw in Greater Sudbury came into effect in 2012 restricting the use of phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, but untreated stormwater continues to drain into the lake. David Shelsted, the city's director of roads, told the July 15 Minnow Lake CAN meeting that money has, in fact, been approved for Phase 1 of a watershed study of Ramsey Lake. The capital budget approved this spring included $200,000 for the study in 2014, and another $700,000 for 2015.
It would cost about $25 million for a complete stormwater treatment system for the affected areas — money Shelsted said the city doesn't have. What the study will tell them is which areas are most severely affected and should be addressed first.
“Perhaps the watershed study will tell us that we should invest in treating the stormwater closer to where the water intake is for the drinking water source,” he said. “I don't know the answer to that question yet, but I want to make sure that we invest in the highest priority according to the limited funds we have.”
But the Ramsey Lake Stewardship Committee argues that the toxic blooms on the lake this year is “a reason to express our solidarity” with groups opposed to the Second Avenue project.
“If not enough care and attention is placed on stormwater management, the blue-green algae growth we are seeing in Ramsey Lake may turn out to be a chronic problem,” co-chair Lilly Noble said in a release July 25. “Can we afford to see Ramsey Lake become a green pond?”