Lake Huron e-news - September 2015

 
Walking for Water
 
Ten years ago, I heard of this unique effort to raise awareness about the plight of water in the Great Lakes. It wasn’t a big, fancy campaign or highly sponsored event. It was three First Nation grandmothers who decided to circumnavigate the shores of Lake Huron, carrying a bucket of water.
 
The symbolism is powerful. For the Anishnaabe people, the responsibility of taking care of the water belongs to the women. Water is considered sacred and the life blood of mother Earth. At various points along their journey, the women  stopped and made offerings and prayers to the water. As they passed through Goderich back in 2005, they made a stop at the beach and made a tobacco offering to the lake. It was a moving ritual to experience. It was a moment to reflect on our lake, and our relationship with it.
 
The concern of First Nations people for the health of the Great Lakes is highly spiritual. Water is more than a commodity or resource. There is a deep reverence toward water and the Great Lakes. To many people in Ontario, water is taken for granted. The Water Walk is an opportunity to learn more about First Nations respect for water, and an opportunity to take pause and think about ways we might be able to have greater respect for water in our daily lives.
 
The 2015 Mother Earth Water Walk began in Matane, Quebec in June and ended in Madeline Island, Wisconsin in August.   

 
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(Coastal Centre Director, Deb Shewfelt (2nd from right), and Education Outreach Coordinator, Karen Alexander (far right), provide donation to Water Walkers)

This year’s walk was to raise awareness of the potential for oil spills by train derailments across Ontario and Quebec and included concern for ships that may spill oil as they cross the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Only recently was an oil terminal on the shores of Lake Superior shelved. But that proposal did shed some light into how much oil has the potential to impact the Great Lakes.
 
From ‘pipelines’ to rail transport to ships, there is more at play than most people realize. We talked a bit about this in our E-news last October. While some may believe “the government” has a handle on this, Canada’s federal government cut the Regional Environmental Emergencies Teams (REETs) in 2012,  from six offices down to two. The Toronto office that covered the Great Lakes was one of them. The two offices that are left to service the entire country are in Gatineau and Montreal.
 
The REETs were set up several years ago to allow for a rapid federal response to marine spills. Prior to 2012, the Great Lakes REET held regular training sessions which were open to all levels of government, agencies, municipal staff and non-government organizations. Anyone who might have a role in a spill response was invited to sessions held throughout the Great Lakes. It was an important coordinating measure aimed at getting everyone singing off the same song sheet, should a spill emergency occur.
 
Nothing like that has happened since 2012. I checked with some of my municipal colleagues: it sounds as though those days of collaborative planning between multiple stakeholders and sectors are a thing of the past.

The powerful symbolism of the Water Walkers, and the message they bring, remind us of what we have at stake in the Great Lakes. This year’s effort to make people aware of the risks associated with oil transportation in the Great Lakes region is timely. It should provoke a change in how we plan, manage, or even accept risks associated with oil shipments in, or near, the largest freshwater source on the planet
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Article by Geoff Peach, Coastal Resources Manager
 


Beaches Be Crazy
 
For all of you long-term cottagers, you know how powerful winds and waves can be in changing the whole complexion of your beach. Indeed, the beach can change from one day to the next, even one hour to the next. The dynamic nature of beaches means that change is the rule.  
 
This August was an interesting month for witnessing such change. On August 2nd, an intense storm formed over Lake Huron. It initially caused a strong storm surge, causing many beaches to flood to points last reached in the high lake levels of the 1990's. This was followed by a rapid drop in levels – a phenomenon known as a seiche. The drop exposed large areas of lake bottom as the shoreline moved lakeward by as much as 200 metres. The water soon flowed back. This was followed by an intense rain and lightning storm. The event transformed many beaches, as sands were shifted around, shores were eroded and vegetation displaced.

 
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(Photo courtesy of Nancy Vidler)
 

Then, at the end of the August, strong winds formed on the lake, resulting from a strong temperature differential between the warm lake and much cooler air blowing across the water. This formed some pretty powerful waves that one doesn’t typically see until Fall, when the temperature differential is more normal. The strong wave energy changed the look of many beaches once again.

A lot of times, seasonal cottagers miss the drama of the lake because summer tends to be the calm season, with relatively gentle waves and lake breezes. There’s always the odd storm, but nothing like what we experience during the gales of November.
 
Beaches (and their dunes) are designed by nature to be resilient to the strong forces of the lake. That’s why beach stewardship and conservation are so important. It’s about keeping the natural infrastructure in place to be present for the unpredictable, dynamic and powerful nature events of our coast.

 


Extended Summer
 

Labour Day usually means everyone is packing up the cottage to head home for work or school. But here’s a tip. If you can swing  a few more cottage days in September, it’s often the best time of year. Why? It’s still officially summer until the Autumnal Equinox on the 21st. So, you get the summer weather, the lake is at its warmest, and the beaches are typically quiet. That’s valuable advice. Probably worthy of a donation to the Coastal Centre.
 

To make a donation, click here.

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Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation

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Geoff Peach (right) with organization co-founder Patrick Donnelly

 

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