New Response to Thames River Concerns (August 17, 2016)
The Thames River’s connection to algae in the Great Lakes is sparking local action. Around Lake Erie, work continues to solve the problem of harmful algae blooms, which affect drinking water, the local economy, and the health of the lake.
“The federal government has identified the Thames watershed as a priority because of the phosphorus the river carries into Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, triggering harmful algae blooms,” explained Karen Maaskant, Water Quality Specialist with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA). “They’ve set a target of reducing phosphorus loads in the Thames and its tributaries by 40%, in order to improve water quality downstream.”
An umbrella organization called the Thames River Clear Water Revival (TRCWR) has been working in the background to build relationships, identify opportunities to improve water quality and quantity, secure funding, and implement meaningful actions. This initiative brings together all levels of government, First Nations, Conservation Authorities and the local community.
The TRCWR secured funding for a study on nutrients in the Thames. The study indicated that cutting back on the phosphorus reaching the river during the spring runoff is the key, and phosphorus is coming from sources across the entire Thames watershed.
“Best management practices are needed to manage phosphorus and slow the rate of runoff to the river, especially during spring peak flows when nutrient loads to the river are highest,” said Brad Glasman, UTRCA Conservation Services Manager. “On agricultural lands, these BMPs could be a suite of practices such as cover crops, or erosion control structures including berms and waterways. In urban areas, low impact development projects, like rain gardens, will help to improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff.”
The study also identified the need for more monitoring, mainly in the Lower Thames watershed. Projects are now underway to expand the water quality monitoring network in that area, to measure progress in reducing phosphorus in the Thames watershed.
The TRCWR is writing a Water Management Plan that will identify actions to help reduce the Thames River’s impact on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.
“The plan will provide broad recommendations for the river targeting water quality issues such as phosphorus, as well as water quantity concerns such as changing stream flows and the impacts on stream health,” explained Tara Tchir, TRCWR Project Manager.
The plan will also consider the local First Nations’ Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and how it can inform water management decisions. “This is the first time that First Nations have been able to participate in a Thames River management plan,” said Tchir. “The Clear Water Revival is helping us build partnerships that we haven’t had before.”