Urban Brook Trout at Risk
Our vision for Canada is to conserve, protect, and restore Canada’s freshwater ecosystems, especially their coldwater resources, for current and future generations.
Sundial Creek is an urban coldwater creek — one of the last, if not the very last of its kind in Orillia — and home to a native brook trout population. Substantial groundwater flow and coldwater aquifers have allowed the fish to persist for many years in the creek.
But residential development in the area, the channelization of some sections, storm sewer outflows and even the dumping of fill into the stream bed are beginning to take its toll on the creek. Heavy siltation, nutrient loading and invasive species now threaten the fish that spawn in the creek.
Grade 12 Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School student Estella Crosby, working under the supervision of her teacher, Mr. Jeff Cole, conducted research on the creek during the Fall of 2017. She presented a deputation to the Environmental Advisory Committee on December 5, 2017, summarizing the findings from these activities.
Water quality testing
Results of water quality tests using both biological (benthic macroinvertebrate survey) and chemical methods (tests on 7 parameters) confirm that:
• Elevated nitrate-nitrogen levels persist in Sundial Creek.
• The source(s) of nutrient loading is / are still unknown.
• The stream water quality index is “low” indicating that the creek may not be suitable habitat for pollution sensitive species.
Results of an observation survey conducted in fall 2017 revealed the following concerns:
• Silt buildup is excessive in several locations in the creek.
• There is an absence of riparian areas and/or loss of riparian area health adjacent to the creek along Sundial Drive. When it comes to water quality, riparian areas are the last line of defense for water running off the land into the creek. Healthy and productive riparian areas trap sediment, filter and buffer water, slow water flows, maintain biological diversity, etc.
• There is significant invasive plant growth in the creek bed along Sundial Drive.
Results of a survey of residents conducted in fall 2017 concluded:
• There is low awareness of the environmental significance of the creek among residents.
• The use of lawn and garden fertilizers is common practice among residents who live adjacent to the creek. Residents who use lawn fertilizer do not employ low-phosphorous, slow release alternatives.
• The use of salt and ice-melting products on driveways and walkways in the winter is common practice among residents who live adjacent to the creek. The frequency and amount of salt / ice-melting product being applied is weather dependent.
• A few residents have noticed changes in the creek that could warrant further investigation, such as siltation plumes after storms, hardening of the channel by residents to prevent erosion, and flow diversion by residents to prevent flooding.
Interviews with officials from Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change added the following information:
Brent Shirley, Management Biologist
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
• Rehabilitation work, such as the removal of invasive plants, can be done without a permit as long as property owner permission is obtained.
• Phased work done at the least sensitive time of year would be best.
• Observed violations by property owners that threaten fish populations can be reported to the MNRF tip line.
Lyndsay Dunville, Senior Environmental Officer
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
• Elevated nitrate levels could be from various sources, such as but not limited to fertilizer runoff, leaky cesspools, and/or car exhaust.
• Documentation and guidelines for “urban nutrient management” are not well-defined.
• Headwater systems are important sources of food, sediment, water, nutrients, and organic matter for downstream reaches, and must be given due consideration when planning for development. Activities such as development which eliminate headwater features can have implications on groundwater recharge, water quantity, and the overall health of the downstream channel. Specifically, within Sundial Creek, headwater features have been incorporated directly into the residential development, channelizing, hardening, and landscaping segments of the creek.
Reflection & Celebration
Estella’s research has catalyzed the community on this issue.
A working group of the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee was formed in January 2018 to continue to:
• Determine the factors contributing to Sundial Creek’s declining health
• Investigate solutions
• Implement (or find the best people to implement) the most feasible and practical solutions.