Toronto - A leading local environmental management organization released yesterday the long-awaited results of its 2007 report titled, “Listen to Your River: A Report Card on the Health of the Humber River Watershed.” According to Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) and the Humber Watershed Alliance, the health of the watershed faces serious challenges.

Since the last report card seven years ago, the 26 variables studied to gauge the health of the Humber River watershed suggests it to be in average condition. Overall, the health of the Humber continues to come under significant stress from new urban growth, increased population, additional traffic, and greater demand on greenspace for a variety of uses.

“By 2021, the watershed may be 45 per cent urbanized posing potential, serious losses of environmental quality and biodiversity,” said Gary Wilkins, TRCA’s Humber Watershed Specialist. “Today only 15 per cent of the urban area has stormwater quantity controls. We need to be vigilant on this issue to ensure best practices are used in future growth and older areas get retrofitted for better water quality and quantity.”

The report card identified no improvements in bacteria levels. There were 900 oil spills and 750 chemical spills in a six-year period. Fish surveys indicated 57 per cent of stations saw a decline in habitat quality. Additionally, summer low flows in the main branch have gone down by 13 per cent.

The organizations feel there is not enough investment in environmental protection and restoration, and public awareness is low when it comes to the problems and what needs to be done by everyone to improve the situation. For example, “Only 10 per cent of area residents have volunteered their time to a cause aimed at improving the environment,” said Wilkins. “The result of not acting is closed beaches, increased costs for providing safe water supplies and degraded environmental health of public spaces, among many other things.”

The situation is not, however, without hope. The report card acknowledges significant protection of the upper reaches of the Humber as a result of new strategic plans such as the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Greenbelt Plan and Ontario Regulation 166/06. The watershed now has 32 per cent natural cover, well on its way to the 39 per cent target prescribed by the Terrestrial Natural Heritage Strategy. There were also no significant increases since 2000 in conventional pollutants such as suspended solids, phosphorous, nitrogen and ammonia.

Other positive factors include an additional 28 kilometres of trails that have been built since 2000. Sixty one per cent of the watercourses have streamside natural vegetation such as trees and meadows to protect water quality and habitat for fish and other wildlife.

“It is hard for most of us to realize that even one person can have a positive impact on the environment,” said Wilkins. “When we do something on our own property like recycle, plant a shade-tree or reduce water and energy consumption, we truly make a difference but all of us have to get involved. Other options are to participate in a community initiative such as reforesting public greenspace, litter clean-up or attending an environmental education event. If all else fails due to a lack of time donate to an environmental cause whether financially or with equipment, products or service.”

The Humber River watershed, the largest in TRCA’s 2,500-square-kilometre jurisdiction, has provided a home for human communities for more than 10 thousand years. More than 670,000 people live, travel to work, or pursue recreational activities in the Humber River watershed. The area’s population is predicted to grow to more than one million people by 2021, making it everyone’s responsibility to help protect, restore and celebrate the Humber as a Canadian Heritage River.

For additional information or to view a copy of the complete report card, please visit www.trca.on.ca