Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee, March 4, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
The committee got three presentations today about the ecological future of Halifax, and that future is bleak if you’re a cynic.
The first presentation was from Doctors Linda Campbell and Jonathan Fowler. One of Campbell’s graduate students is looking at how salting our streets is affecting water tables in the HRM. The conductivity in the city’s lakes is on the rise due to salt. The doctors said that even though the city looks at individual lakes when there’s a complaint, there’s no holistic look at the impact of our lives on our water. Although, the city is implementing a water quality monitoring system this year which came out of a Watershed Advisory Committee meeting in Nov. 2018. And the maps from the presentation are really cool, worth scrolling down for.
There are also some issues with jurisdiction. For example, Williams Lake is in the HRM but right beside a provincial highway. The councillors have no control over how the province salts. Mancini committed to getting the province, Halifax Water, the city, and academics into the same room to start having a conversation to find better holistic solutions to our water problem.
The committee also got two presentations, one from a grade nine student in Toronto and one from city staff, that were both presenting climate solutions on bad science.
First and foremost, it’s important to say that the grade nine student who called in to try and make the world a better place is doing more than most people do. That said, they pitched a presentation about recycling markers. Markers, which are largely plastic, are currently thrown out in the HRM. The student said that markers could be recycled with no impact on the climate and turned into diesel fuel. At first glance this sounds great, but there are a few things that don’t quite meet the smell test. In order to recycle these markers, they need to be heated up and melted down, which produces emissions, and carbon. And this process recycles the markers into diesel, which is, you know, diesel.
City staff also gave a really disappointing presentation on the ‘exciting’ future of hydrogen. Hydrogen, if produced locally and using completely green energy, could be a great alternative to HRM’s emissions woes. But this hydrogen solution comes in large part from Heritage Gas, who have a vested interest in fossil fuels. Their plan involves mixing hydrogen into natural gas to make natural gas better for the environment. But it won’t work.
The committee isn’t doing anything with the hydrogen presentation at this moment, and the city will be adding information to our garbage collection app (on google play in the app store) for alternate disposal of markers.
And finally, if Dartmouth Common (Leighton Dillman Park), a right-of-way area along Sime Court in South Kingswood, and Merv Sullivan Park start to look different this year it’s because they’re undergoing a naturalization pilot project.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Mancini: Three presentations! The first one is Mobilizing Universities to Solve Wicked Problems in HRM: Where Does the Water Go? Floor is yours!
Dr. Jonathan Fowler: There are fewer more important problems than this one. All sustainability inquiry is historical inquiry. If we wanted to we could create a photo of me holding up a Volkswagen, and I would look like the strongest man on earth, and two seconds later it’s a different picture. Sustainability is the same, it takes meaning outside of time. We do things that are okay in the moment, that seem okay, but long term are harmful. Eric Sanderson wrote a book called Mannahatta because he found an old map of Manhattan Island as it was at the time. It’s wild to compare it to what we see on Manhattan Island today. He then tracked the change of that island over time using maps. When the army that made that map left New York, they came to Halifax and made another map of Halifax.
Fowler: This map is the size of a ping pong table. It also maps, in great detail, watercourses. I’ve been working with these maps, and we can do some cool stuff with these maps and computers.
Fowler: And at this point, I’m going to hand it off.
Dr. Linda Campbell: It’s important to understand historical water flow patterns. One of my students is looking at the effects of salting streets on our water in Halifax. Salting is making our water more conductive, a.k.a. saltier. When we put the street salting maps overtop of the conductivity map we can see a direct correlation between the two. Our lakes are reaching their limits. Road salt is not just an issue for one lake, it’s for all lakes. But most studies or reports only focus on one lake where a complaint was made. We don’t have a systematic approach to look at it. And we should have a systematic approach, that’s why we’re here.
Austin: Not a question, comment. There’s a wonderful opportunity here to work together and collaborate on this. We have an HRM program gearing up in the next year to start regularly testing our lakes. We know the salt is us causing that. I think there’s a lot of room here to collaborate.
Cleary: Some of those bad lakes are in my district! I’ve been working with road staff to reduce the salt used around lakes. I know we have water quantity issues, we don’t want to lose the life in the lakes. Can I have those maps? What will happen if we don’t reduce the amount of salt getting into our lakes? It’s hard not to put some salt into our environment. (Couldn’t people stay home instead of making sure they could travel?)
Campbell: I can send you the maps once my student’s defended her thesis. Williams Lake is a good example, it’s good that we’re reducing salt into Williams Lake, but we’re not looking at the lakes and waterways Williams Lake feeds into. If we’re not looking at this holistically it’s going to be a problem. As we get better at reducing our salt, we need to make sure we’re monitoring to make sure salt is being reduced over time.
Cleary: You’re right, there’s a lot that feeds into Williams Lake, there’s a provincial highway that they salt! (Damn you province!) The Williams Lake Conservation Company has started looking at the whole watershed now, which is good.
Morse: We need to see more buffer strips around our conservation areas, would any buffer strip reduce the sale significantly?
Campbell: We need to see where we’ve been and see how it’s changing over time. Buffer strips is a good question to ask, our graduate student is looking at it, but not many people have looked at it, so we don’t know. What’s the soil like? How big is it? How much water is in the water table? It’s a great idea to look at, but I don’t know without the specifics.
Lovelace: I’m concerned about the water tables, we don’t monitor it. It’s important to look at the jurisdictional issues with who owns what roads and what can we do to work together. How can we address the quality of our water tables? We’re looking at lakes, which are important, but the whole watershed issue is important for potable water in wells. There are only a few lakes that provide water to the hrm. The watersheds are also important outside of the arbitrary boundaries of the HRM. Are you looking at any larger solutions for the water that feeds into our watersheds?
Campbell: It’s a huge challenge, there’s a shared responsibility, and the province, city, and Halifax Water all have different roles. It’s worth it to get everyone into the same room to start having these conversations.
Fowler: There’s a mindset we’re suffering under called presentism. We have a planning process that’s very present oriented and doesn’t take into account the historical change over time.
Mancini: There are a lot of lakes in Dartmouth. We have some major issues in Lake Banook with weeds and blue green algae. I’m glad we’re starting to monitor our lakes. You alluded to getting everyone in the room together, but is there a meeting set up?
Fowler: I don’t think so.
Mancini: I’m going to try and see if I can make this happen. I think this can go a long way to make this happen.
Cleary: Is this an informal get-together or do you need a motion?
Mancini: Informal first, then we’ll see if it works.
Campbell: There are other experts that could provide knowledge and insights that could be involved as well.
Mancini: Okay, I’m going to try and set this up. Province has new leadership, so maybe the window is open. Now on to the presentation “The Power of A Dried Marker.”
Alex Xia: The definition of marker recycling is easy, cheap, effective, and necessary. Dried markers need their own bin and people can drop off dry markers to be reused. Here’s how to do marker recycling:
Xia: Dried markers can be recycled into diesel fuel (WHAT!?) in a way that doesn’t create greenhouse gasses. (WHAT!? Okay, apparently the recycling process produces byproduct emissions, and it’s creating diesel, which is a fossil fuel, this claim is suspect) If everyone in Halifax recycled one marker we could generate 2500L of fuel. It’s cheap because marker recycling is free. Crayola recycles any marker for free. All the city would need to do, is print out shipping labels, Crayola does everything else. Here’s what happens if we don’t recycle markers:
Mancini: Can you give us a background on you?
Xia: I’m a grade nine student from Toronto, I’m calling in from Toronto!
Mancini: That’s an amazing presentation, thank you.
Austin. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m always tripping over markers. Does marker recycling exist in Toronto? Schools? Parks and rec buildings?
Xia: It’s not really happening right now. I know Missisaugua has been interested in this and have started a pilot project. I don’t think anywhere I’ve presented has started marker recycling.
Mancini: A motion for a pilot project?
Austin: Perhaps go away and bring something back next meeting? That’s normally our SOP.
Lovelace: We used to take our markers and pens somewhere to get recycled, not sure where they went. Our HRM app tells people markers go in the garbage, but batteries, we tell people to do something special with them. We have a lot of places that could do collection.
Deagle-Gammon: Maybe this could happen in our schools, thank you for the presentation.
Mancini: What’s the next steps?
Staff: Up to you, a report? We can easily update the app to let people know markers don’t need to go in the garbage.
Austin: Let’s get a staff report! I’m always cautious with motions.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Mancini: We’re getting a report!
Xia: Is there any way to follow up? Someone I can get a hold of later on?
Mancini: Yup, our clerks are on it. Hydrogen and Decarbonizing Halifax!
Staff: These recommendations are based on readily available and widely accessible technology, solar panels, EVs, etc. But it won’t be enough to make it all the way, so we’ll have to make it by buying offsets or technology that doesn’t exist yet. Hydrogen might be a solution, there are three ways to make hydrogen.
Staff: In HalifACT green hydrogen is seen as the solution to some of the most difficult pollution sectors, like transportation, which makes up 19.3 per cent of emissions. Electric vehicles can be powered by hydrogen using fuel cells and they’re better than battery EVs on range. British Colombia and California are starting pilot projects.
Staff: The benefits to hydrogen are longer range and resiliency in power outages. It costs twice as much as battery busses and there is no local source of green hydrogen. Importing green hydrogen would negate the benefits. Most of our emissions come from heating buildings, at 70 per cent. Hydrogen could become a source of heating fuel. When (if) green hydrogen becomes available locally it could be blended with natural gas (… so not carbon zero). What can we do right now?
Mancini: It’s exciting to see other places, like BC and Alberta, doing things with hydrogen!
Morse: As political leaders, we need to find practical ways to do things, which means money. What is the scale of a green hydrogen production facility and what would it cost?
Staff: We could use a power purchase agreement, which we will bring back to council if we figure out that it’s something that we could use.
Deagle-Gammon: Heritage Gas made a presentation to this committee, and there’s a lot of talk of it being used in the EU and UK. Is there a learning exchange, a formal mechanism, to follow what they’re doing in the EU or UK?
Staff: It’s being handled by stakeholders, such as Heritage Gas, they’re one of the major players in the creation and implementation of our climate plan (I’m sure that’s fine, and not at all as nefarious as it could seem for a natural gas company to have a major role in a city’s climate change plan). They’ve offered us a seat at the table.
Mancini: Next, can someone read the motion?
Cleary: *Reads the motion for agenda item 12.1.1 as written* Weren’t we looking at a much larger group of areas and not just these three?
Staff (policy coordinator parks and rec): There were always going to be a few trial sites, to test the waters and see what sort of information we could put into a formal policy or guideline. It wasn’t going to be a lot of sites.
Cleary: We need to make sure we’re communicating what we’re doing well.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Councillor Tony Mancini, Chair (District 6)
Councillor Kathryn Morse, Vice Chair (District 10)
Councillor Kathy Deagle-Gammon (District 1)
Councillor Sam Austin (District 5)
Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)
Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting and current agenda:
A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.
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