Lake water quality testing likely coming to HRM

Wilderness protection and growth, conflicting policies

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee June 3, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee voted to send a lake water quality monitoring program to council for approval. 

The program suggested by staff and approved by the committee plans to test 73 lakes in the HRM to establish a baseline for the health of the city’s lakes. Should this plan be approved at council the water quality testing would start next year, with this year being used to set up the infrastructure. 

The plan is to have the HRM support local community groups to monitor the lakes in their communities. The city recognizes not all community groups are operating on the same level so the support will range from supplying equipment to a more complete training and organizational assist. The goal is to make the community group monitoring standard and self-sustaining so the program could be expanded as groups become more self-sufficient. Councillor Austin wanted to know if there would be a role for the HRM to play in marshalling volunteers and being the organizing force, since some people would be interested in doing testing but not necessarily the extra work that comes with a community group. Staff will look into that. 

The testing will be done twice a year, and the city will also be organizing the data and making it public. They also plan to post a list of the lakes that will be tested and the ones that won’t with reasons why.  

HRM Alliance’s Meredith Baldwin and Ecology Action Centre’s Karen McKendry also presented off the top and bottom of the meeting respectfully. They highlighted a major concern with the HRM’s municipal planning strategy and were bringing it up because of the ongoing review (which took up the bulk of this meeting, but really isn’t super relevant at this stage to report on, they’re soliciting feedback though on the Shape Your City website). The major concern highlighted was Sandy Lake and Blue Mountain Birch Cove are listed as areas to both preserve existing wilderness and target growth. It’s impossible to do both at the same time. 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Mancini: Presentation time! HRM Alliance!

Meredith Baldwin: I’m sharing an update on our alliance, we advocate for complete communities, and the Halifax Green Network Plan. We see seven solutions for the HRM’s future.

Baldwin: The HRM has included many of them in their municipal plan review, so we’ve updated our solutions. Protect the green network, only a small amount of the plan has been implemented and it’s not guiding our growth. If we’re serious about climate change, it needs to. We need to avoid development in wilderness areas. 35 growth centres is too many growth centres, and it conflicts with wilderness area protection and complete communities. Before moving forward with development, make sure it’s the right place for it. Our growth isn’t making sense right now. We could save billions of dollars by concentrating growth. We’re building sprawl and subsidizing it. Complete communities also help fight climate change. This is the last regional plan review we have before the catastrophic effects of climate change happen. Now is the time to act, and we need to. There also needs to be actionable and meaningful engagement. Do you have any questions? This was a very brief overview. 

Morse: Can you talk about refining the growth centres? And what places should not be growth centres? 

Baldwin: Right now there are 35 in the current regional plan, and three being looked at to be developed. Two of them overlap with important areas for green space, Sandy Lake and Blue Mountain Birch Cove. What we’re calling for in response, is not no growth, but asking if growth is necessary, and if so, are these the right places? We need to make sure the areas still make sense within the scope of climate change and the types of housing. People want complete communities so making sure our growth has that is really important. 

Morse: Of the 35 those are the ones you have concerns about? 

Meredith: Yes, Sandy Lake and Birch Cove likely need to be reviewed and the growth there needs to be explained. 

Morse: You’re asking for a review of those two? 

Baldwin: Yes, with the criteria we laid out, to see if they make sense. 

Deagle-Gammon: District 1 is rural and suburban and largely outside of city infrastructure, but we’re seeing immense growth. How do the seven solutions balance with the rural community growth? Pieces I see well and some pieces I have a hard time connecting. 

Baldwin: Many of the alliance members are from the more rural communities. We need to channel growth in those communities, so it’s less helter skelter, and we can build complete communities in rural areas. I understand that part of this is a challenge.  

Mancini: Water quality monitoring is up, and we have a staff presentation!

Emma Wattie: There was a municipal program from 2006-2011 that studied 50 lakes, and a smaller study from 2015-2017 that looked at six lakes. There’s an ongoing beach monitoring program for beaches that a monitored by lifeguards, they test for E. coli and watch for algae blooms. The lake synoptic study happens every 10 years, it’s was a DFO program, now run by the province and Dal. There are also a lot of academic initiatives. Why monitor? Informed decision making, establish baseline conditions. AECOM put together a report that looked at what establishing water monitoring would or could look like in Halifax. They have three frameworks.

Wattie: Our recommendation is framework 1, and here’s how it would ramp up, and the cost:

Wattie: Framework 1 is a hybrid because there are a lot of community groups trying to do the work, but they generally require resources. We have resources and they would give us the data we need. We could reduce monitoring from 74 lakes by monitoring the ones that are doing well less frequently. Here’s what would be monitored and the timeline:

Wattie: I want to avoid collecting all this data and then not doing anything with it. It’s important that there is data transparency and the data is used for lake management plans. This would mean we would have a robust baseline dataset of vulnerable lakes and it would cover a broad area.

Mancini: *Reads the motion for agenda item 12.1.1 as written* I think it’s important to understand the history. We used to monitor lakes but were told it was the province’s responsibility so we stopped. But they have a lot of things going on, so we’re taking it back. We do the monitoring, we collect the data, then what? Especially the high risk lakes? We’ve identified an issue, how do we fix it? (Depends on the data collected, she just said that.

Wattie: It depends on what the issue is, what the lake is, and what the cause of the issue is. My answer is it depends because there’s a lot we don’t know at this point. The report cards would be one step to help indicate what’s happening and more conversations can happen. It’s not a silver bullet, but we don’t know what we don’t know. 

Mancini: This data might help us go to the province, I understand that I just want to make it clear for those watching to manage expectations. Has the budget been approved for this for the next three years? 

Shannon Miedema: We have the funds for this year if you approve it. And then if you approve it, it’ll be in future budgets. 

Mancini: How do we get the results of the monitoring? How frequently? How do we share the results? 

Wattie: We’d collect in the spring and mid-late summer, then do analysis, and prep the data. It depends if you want an annual report or a framework review after two years? 

Miedema: We’re planning on making the data open with our public data network. But raw data isn’t that accessible, so that’s why we’re also doing the report cards. 

Mancini: If this motion gets passed today, what happens next? 

Wattie: This year is a prep year making sure we know what we can monitor, see who’s on the ground, buy the gear, and do the standards review so everyone’s doing the same thing. 

Miedema: It goes to council next for approval. 

Deagle-Gammon: The watershed advisory committees in the HRM, will they be involved as community partners? 

Wattie: We’ve received their input this year and they gave a lot of advice to help shape this report. They would be in an advisory role, mainly. But not utilized in the building up of the program. 

Cleary: I support this whole heartily, and I support framework 1. It brings our resources but includes the community. *Tech issues, my internet sucks these days for no reason*

Wattie: *Explaining something, I assume answering what Cleary ended up asking! Sorry!*

Miedema: We’d be putting the information about the 74 lakes up on our website. And we’re going to make sure people know if their lakes are included, or not, and why. 

Austin: I’m happy to see this back, you can’t fix what you don’t know about. We need to do monitoring! This is not a regional centre intense development issue. It’s an HRM wide issue. Things that impact the lakes, salting the roads, development, recreation, and we regulate all of that! So it might be provincial jurisdiction and they can’t be let off the hook but we need to make sure we’re fixing what we can. Not every lake will be fortunate enough to have retired, educated, well-off people to take care of the lakes. I’m enthusiastic about this, but about community involvement. It can be a wide variety of what that means, from buying gear and saying “good luck” or a full hand holding. What will the community involvement look like?

Wattie: There’s a range when it comes to community monitoring. There are people who are like ‘hey the peepers are back, awesome’ and people who have their own boats and testing gear. We need to build a program that’s acceptable to multiple groups and see what the capacity is at the groups. We want to make a baseline program but also help build capacity so we can step back and help monitor other lakes. 

Austin: On the continuum, is there a role for the HRM in marshalling volunteers if there’s not formal community organization? 

Wattie: Maybe.  

Austin: There could be a lot of interest in that. 

Morse: Once you have the data, will you be able to recommend policy direction? 

Wattie: Yes, in Kings County, they collected data and changed their setbacks.  

M/S/CVoteAye Unanimous

Mancini: Regional plan review! Presentation!

Kate Greene: We’re aiming to have this done by 2022 but it’s a huge policy review process to make the regional plan up to date. We’re engaging the public, using virtual tools and community networks. What we’re doing now is making sure we’re going in the right direction, and we’re asking the public, committees, basically everyone. We’re creating issues papers. 

Greene: *Sorry folks, I’m… definitely not tuning out since this is riveting and my internet is working extremely well, you can read the beefy 146 page report this presentation is based on and all it’s info here* Onto theme 8, enhancing environmental protection, which is the important part for this committee. 

Greene: And theme 9, leading through action on climate change. 

Austin: Bylaw simplification, we need a new name for that. Suburban growth isn’t going away. It needs to be more sustainable (if you develop a suburb you lose the wilderness forever). I don’t think living in the suburbs means you’re a different species, you still want walkable neighbourhoods. The lingering fear that I have is are we actually going to commit to doing a suburban plan like the Centre Plan? Because that’s what we need to do. 

Greene: We know where we need to organize around, can we do work in the regional plan to see what the intensification of suburbs would look like? We can add that to community consultation. 

Morse: Can we incorporate active transportation with parks and conservation? 

Greene: Yes. *Folks, this stream is skipping like a my favourite CD in highschool after a year of play, I am missing some stuff*

Deagle-Gammon: On the larger issues, they make sense to people. But people don’t really understand how they fit in. I’m hoping for more integrated responses. Are the urban service boundaries set in stone? Or can they change? 

Greene: The regional plan will set out where a service boundary is, and it’s not a set definition. And if we are growing, and our population is expanding, where do we grow next? I think it’s important to do this at the regional scale first. 

Mancini: Public participation.

Karen McKendry: I work with the Ecology Action Centre and my focus is on the wilderness piece. There is a conflict with HRM’s policies where they say they want to save the wilderness parts of the city but are also having those parts of these cities as priorities for growth. We also have a great framing for when growth is good or necessary but there is no similar framing for wilderness areas. 

Morse: Where do you see the gaps in the parks strategy? What can we do to fill those gaps? 

McKendry: The Themes and Directions has wilderness parks for the first time, will that be an official park designation? That could be a good step. There’s also tension between groups who want parks and the HRM and how the work will happen, with timelines, etc. That would be helpful. 

*There was another question from Morse and an answer, I missed it*

*Meeting adjourned*


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)



Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Previous meeting

Current agenda

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