Tag Archives: Ecological Restoration

Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?

October 10, 2015  

Native plants at Don's Edge

All I could think when I looked down at the Don River mouth was “well, they are native plants at least!” Photo by PlanGreen

In 2007 when I wrote Greening Waterfront Development: Toronto, I was highly impressed with official plans for greening Toronto’s waterfront.  Our two day tour with Greater Portland Inc, had Waterfront Revitalization on the agenda, but we didn’t get to the area that I wanted to see–the re-naturalizing of the mouth of the Don River.

So after our debriefing on Sept. 30, I rented a bike at HI Toronto  and headed towards the Waterfront Trail then east towards the Don River. I wanted to document the progress Toronto had made in their plans to transform the mouth of this highly channelized river that I had written about in my 2007 article. I soon ran out of separated bike trail and plush new development and came to a channel with a short bridge over it.  With a bit of incredulity in my voice, I asked “Is THIS the mouth of the Don River?” of the fellow who turned out to be the drawbridge operator.

Don River Mouth and Drawbridge

I had already crossed this drawbridge when it opened for a barge carrying dredge materials. Photo by PlanGreen.

He assured me that it was. Then I asked “What about the re-naturalization they were going to be doing?”  He told me that volunteers had been doing some planting in the park down the way so I headed into the  industrial area along Villers Street making a first stop at a small public pier to capture the drawbridge opening. I was crestfallen to see the mouth of the river was still in its concrete channel and brown from sediment. Active dredging was still taking place.  In fact, the drawbridge was opening for a barge carrying dredge material upriver in what is called the Keating Channel.

I'm passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I’m passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I did find some native species and a sign corroborating what the drawbridge operator had told me. But the scale of the ecological restoration that needs to be done there came nowhere close to the scale of the earth moving and skyscraper building that is taking place nearby. In fact, it seemed to be the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I found it disappointing that any city with 180 towering cranes in its core area alone was not making equally fast progress with the ecological restoration of one of its major rivers. It leads me to ask what kind of public benefit is the City extracting from each of these developments?

Barging Dredge up the Don

I certainly hope that the planned restoration includes removal of this ramp along the Don River too. Photo by PlanGreen

Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991.  According to a Wikipedia article on the DonIn 2007, the Toronto Waterfront Development Corporation (now WaterfrontToronto) held a design competition that looked at four different configurations for the mouth of the Don. The winning bid was made by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.[16] The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.[17]  That Environmental Assessment was only passed by the province January 26, 2015–a 7 year lag!  This was not because of the economic “recession.”  We were told that did not phase Toronto.

MVVA Plan for Re-Naturalizing Mouth of the Don

This 2007 award-winning plan by Michael Van Valkenburg associates can be found here http://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=60–along with many other tantalizing images.

When I reviewed the plans by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I was reminded that Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.

October 12, 2015

An interesting explanation for the delay of the re-naturalization of the Don River that I was expecting to see can be found in Planning Nature and the City: Toronto’s Lower Don River and Port Lands  by Gene Desfor and Jennifer Bonnell:

. . . in the fall of 2011 Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, their right-wing allies, and competing development agencies, attempted to hijack current waterfront planning processes and radically alter plans for the Port Lands. Those sympathetic to Mayor Ford’s vision see these lands primarily as a way to ease budget woes by selling prime waterfront property to international developers. As the Toronto Star editorialized, “The Fords’ ludicrous vision for the future – complete with a megamall, monorail and giant Ferris wheel – was so abysmal that a tide of Torontonians rose up in protest. Most city councillors broke with the mayor’s program and quashed the takeover [of Waterfront Toronto].”31 At the time of writing [no date provided], a political solution is being sought in which Waterfront Toronto, the City, and various special purpose government organizations are working to design a compromise between Ford’s “ludicrous vision” and the plan based on the MVVA proposal.

Don Lands Map

There are three distinct plans for revitalization around the Don River:: West Don Lands (pale plum), Lower Don Lands (lime green) and Portl Lands (turquoise blue and light turquoise). Map courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

According to Waterfront Toronto website, construction of the Lower Don Lands Plan and the Port Lands Plan is yet to come.  There is no mention of the above controversy on their site.

A Waterfront Toronto newsroom article announced that on July 14, 2015 it, along with federal, provincial and city government partners, came up with $5M to take the next steps on the proposal to naturalize the Don River:

The due diligence work being primarily undertaken by Waterfront Toronto will provide governments with additional assurance on the estimated $975 million cost of this project, which includes rerouting the Don River to the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, remediating the area’s contaminated soil, creating new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk, unlock a vast area for revitalization and development – including the creation of a new community called Villiers Island – and create billions of dollars of economic development opportunities.

New Precinct Map

These new precincts are estimated to bring $3.6 billion in value, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues. First partners must reroute the Don River, remediate the area’s contaminated soil, and create new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk. Image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year [2015],  and “will enable government funding of the project by providing confirmation of the cost of the project, strategies to mitigate the risks associated with the project, and an implementation strategy.”

The project would be ready to start by 2017 and take approximately seven years to complete.  An independent study by PwC done for Waterfront Toronto in 2014 estimates that “the project will generate $3.6 billion in value to the Canadian economy, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.”

So, to answer the question my title asks, “Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?”–LOOK FOR IT IN 2024!  That estimate, of course, will depend upon continued economic progress–progress that seems a bit uncertain right now.

Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River!

January 10, 2014

CentralReachImageIn a recent workshop the City of Portland, Oregon sponsored for its Willamette River Central Reach Plan , planners asked for habitat enhancement  “projects that would have larger bang for the buck”. . . “projects that would have a multiplier effect in terms of watershed health.”  Mycofiltration—the use of mycorrhizal mushrooms and their mycelia to filter pollutants would rank high on both of these criteria.

Mycofiltration will reduce harmful pollutants commonly found in urban stormwater runoff, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. It also eliminates E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes and waterfowl.  Because adding mushroom spores to remediation sites is very inexpensive and low-impact, it has the potential to be a sustainable option well into the future.

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Report: PNWD–4054-1

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Report: PNWD–4054-1

In most places, stormwater runoff goes directly into streams, rivers and oceans and recycles through the watershed carrying the pollutants with it.  And that it is a big problem for salmon and wildlife survival.  Mycofiltration should be added as a treatment to enhance the activity of existing stormwater management biofiltration cells such as the rain gardens, bioswales and green streets that are plentiful in Portland. By adding Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata) mycelium to the soil mix, harmful substances that come from heavily trafficked roads such as I-5, I-84 and the motor vehicle bridges in the Central Reach: Broadway, Steel, Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne, Markham, Ross Island can be transformed into carbohydrates and nutrients — which are actually useful to surrounding soil and plants cheap cialis overnight delivery.

Mycobag w/Pleurotus Photo via Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

Mycobag w/Pleurotus -Courtesy Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

By adding mycofilters to biofiltration cells installed in places where people walk their dogs such as South Waterfront, Riverplace, Waterfront Park, Eastbank Esplanade, etc., E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes that were not properly disposed of can become a nutrient rather than a pollutant.  Having these mushrooms in the mix can actually help the native plants we are planting in streambank restoration and biofiltration cell facilities grow more robustly.  Instead of dealing with pollutants, their roots are getting more nutrients.

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

I was fortunate enough to meet inspirational mushroom guru, Paul Stamets (here he is giving a TED talk) when he was first starting his farm near Olympia, WA in the 1980s.  He had just wowed the Washington Department of Ecology with the use of mushrooms to clean up the E-Coli and fecal coliform problem caused by his farm animals.  In a single year he had achieved a 99% reduction in pollutants despite doubling the number of animals on the farm.

Since that time, I have gone on to found my business PlanGreen around using ecosystem services to deal with urban stormwater and other environmental problems/opportunities.  I believe, as Stamets does, that the Earth has its own immune system and that we need to learn to better work with that immune system. Although I have been excited about the efforts that Portland and other communities throughout the nation are making in biofiltration—using plants and soil to filter stormwater–I have long wondered why we were not utilizing mushrooms as well.

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

So, I was thrilled to see “Can Mushrooms Help Fight Stormwater Pollution?” as a link on the Oregon Environmental Council’s “Oregon Stormwater” listserve.  The story (first published on Sightline’s blog on Nov. 13, 2013 , then picked up by Public Broadcasting’s Earthfix) indicates that Fungi Perfecti is looking for partners to help further the research it did under a grant from EPA.  The study itself, Fungi Perfecti, LLC.: EPA Phase I, Mycofiltration Biotechnology Research Summary, concludes that additional research is needed to clearly define treatment design and operating parameters.

That sounds like a challenge that Portland area jurisdictions would relish. So PlanGreen is seeking to broker partnerships between Fungi Perfecti and receptive jurisdictions. Beyond treatment design and operating parameters, some of the issues to be resolved by those partnerships might be[i]:

  • Whether or not the mushrooms grown on decomposing toxic wastes are safe to eat.
  • To what degree of decomposition by mycelium of toxic soils makes the soils safe for food crops [including food for wildlife]
  • How economically practical will it be to remove mushrooms that have hyper-accumulated heavy metals. . .? Which species are best for hyper accumulating specific metals?
  • How to finance/design composting centers around population centers near pollution threats.
Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

However, whether or not our cities, ports and other transportation agencies can qualify for the robust monitoring needed for the Fungi Perfecti research, we have enough anecdotal evidence (and PlanGreen and its partners have enough knowledge and materials) to get to the starting gate right now. As Stamets says in his book, Mycelium Running, “Now is the time to ensure the future of our planet and our species by partnering, or running, with mycelium.”


[i] These issues were borrowed from Stamets’ The Petroleum Problem, on the Fungi Perfecti website.

 

Please see May 6, 2015 post titled Mycoremediation: Mushrooms Cleaning Soils and Water in Portland for further information on this topic.