Farmers, rural residents work together to reduce phosphorous levels
Tobermory – A community group in the Bruce Peninsula knows poop just doesn’t run downhill, it flows downstream too.
That’s why local farmers have been working alongside the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association (BPBA) to provide new watering systems for cattle on pastures, removing the animals from drinking and walking in waterways.
With the goal to improve water quality for themselves and their neighbours downstream, the BPBA’s Six Streams Initiative focuses on addressing three sources of water pollution in their area – cattle drinking in waterways, soil erosion, and under-performing septic systems.
“We’ve had tremendous success working with local farmers on this project, but cattle aren’t the only concern. That’s why water quality is measured regularly to check for improvements,” says Elizabeth Thorn, BPBA Chair.
The project began as a result of a visit from Ted Briggs and Greg Mayne, representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Environment Canada respectively, who, as part of the Lake Huron Georgian Bay Framework for Community Action, were looking for a locally based group who wanted to work on improving water quality in Lake Huron.
As a result, the Six Streams Initiative, founded in 2012, is funded jointly between the federal and provincial governments, and aimed at improving water quality in local freshwater streams of the Bruce Peninsula that flow into Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
Situated between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, the Bruce Peninsula is the very top of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, a unique geographical area that includes wetland complexes, cliff faces, slopes and aquatic ecosystems. Established in 2000, the BPBA became the first community group formed within the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve specifically to implement the concepts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserves.
Since 2013, the BPBA, through the Six Streams Initiative, has worked with local farmers to install 47 alternative watering systems for cattle, build 7.4 km of fencing along water courses and prevent 3,340 cattle from drinking in waterways.
Thorn says annual phosphorus levels have already been reduced by three quarters of a tonne, based on a formula developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
She explains that excess phosphorus in waterways and lakes cause algae growth, which creates problems with aquatic habitat. Phosphorus, often found in soil, enters water ways through soil erosion from fields and soil disturbed by cattle along waterways.
Excess soil in waterways also causes turbidity, clouding the water and affecting aquatic life by blocking sunlight and covering spawning beds. Nitrates from soil, fertilizers and manure can also enter ground water directly, creating a potential health hazard.
John Rodgers, a BPBA director and local farmer, says cleaning up the waterways benefits everyone, including cattle.
“Farmers who have fenced their cattle from waterways and are now using the alternative watering systems are reporting healthier animals,” says Rodgers, who attributes animal health to cleaner water from the watering systems.Rodgers works closely with Neils Munk, the innovative Six Streams Initiative project manager, who has been instrumental in designing the new solar-powered watering systems to provide cattle with clean, fresh water on demand. Neils was recognized by the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture for his efforts.
“We work closely with each farmer to improve the watering systems, making them beneficial for everyone,” says Rodgers.
“Fencing cattle from waterways eliminates many obvious causes of water pollution,” says Thorn, noting other projects are underway to reduce soil erosion from fields and testing monitors water quality.
“Through this program farmers and cottagers have been able to work together to address the water quality problems and find solutions,” says Thorn, explaining one of the new water tests is for the presence of caffeine in waterways. “Cattle don’t drink coffee, so we know that caffeine in our waterways points to under-performing septic systems.”
The Six Streams Initiative has brought community members of all backgrounds and ages together. Volunteers, including high school students, have been trained to become certified water quality data collectors. And project work has stimulated the local economy through job creation and sourcing supplies.
“This project is a win for everyone,” says Thorn.
Funding for BPBA and the Six Streams Initiative has been provided in part by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Lake Huron Georgian Bay Framework for Community Action.
Photo source: Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association
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