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Local environmental association planting seed for healthy shorelines

'We’ll work with the landowners to recommend native plants, including trees, grasses, shrubs and wildflowers,' says official
Improving shoreline health is the goal of a new program presented by the Severn Sound Environmental Association.

On its website, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit lists more than a dozen locations that were affected by blue-green algae blooms last year.

There were two algae blooms in local waterways that were so serious government officials issued advisories to local residents warning them of potential health risks to themselves and their pets.

The first was issued in early August by the health unit following regular testing of Orr Lake.

At the time, Springwater Township officials said the entirety of the lake was under an advisory due to the levels of blue-green algae present in the water.

The second advisory was issued in October when the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks identified a blue-green algae bloom impacting Bass Lake, located near the intersection of Line 15 North and Devitt Street in Oro-Medonte Township.

Algae blooms are a growing concern and one of the reasons why the Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA) is inviting waterfront property owners in the Severn Sound area, which includes portions of Springwater and Oro-Medonte, to participate in a new program called Restore the Shore using the Natural Edge.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in blue-green algae blooms,” said Sarah Song, inland lakes water quality stewardship intern at SSEA. “We’ve had questions from our municipal partners and landowners about what we can do about it. 

“This project is a way to address some of these questions regarding shoreline health, including climate resiliency, fish and wildlife habitat, and filtering pollutants," she added. 

According to Song, officials at the SSEA are working with Watersheds Canada and its model of site visits and planting plans to create their own shoreline assessment tool and educational materials.

She said interested landowners will receive a shoreline self-assessment survey and application and, if selected, the SSEA will schedule a free site visit to assess the shoreline and discuss potential planting plans. 

“Landowners fill them out and we’ll take the information to compare the results before and after the program to assess the success of the project and improvements in shoreline health,” Song said. “The tool is also a great way to educate landowners in what contributes to a healthy shoreline.”

Song said the SSEA has the capacity to do 10 shoreline site visits to help landowners. The organization currently has five applications, with at least one site visit scheduled in four different municipalities.

“The program is first come, first served, but we would ideally like to do one in each of the municipalities we work with,” she said.

Approved projects will receive a starter kit with up to 50 plants.

“SSEA will cover 75 per cent of the cost of the starter kit,” Song said. “Landowners can buy starter kits for $200 for 50 native plants/trees. 

“If landowners want more than 50 plants, we simply add them to their planting plan at cost and take care of all the ordering,” she added.

Song said the SSEA will be using a variety of native plants and trees from local nurseries. The specific selections will be tailored to the landowner’s property conditions, which determines which species will be planted. 

“They provide various benefits from providing pollinator food sources to stabilizing soil,” Song said. “We’ll work with the landowners to recommend native plants, including trees, grasses, shrubs and wildflowers.”

By protecting lake and riverfront shorelines with native plants adapted to the region, these natural buffers will help stabilize soil, protecting property from erosion and reducing the impacts of flooding, improve water quality, filter pollutants, and provide crucial habitat for diverse wildlife. 

Song said landowners who are not selected for the program can still make a positive impact on their property — they’ll just have to pay for it and do the work themselves.

She recommends property owners leave a three-metre buffer of unmowed, ideally native vegetation, between the lawn and shoreline. She also suggests property owners avoid armouring the shoreline with "hardscaping," such as break walls, since this deflects wave energy elsewhere and causes greater erosion problems. 

“This includes minimizing impervious surfaces to prevent rainwater from running off directly into the lake/river,” she said.

Lastly, she says property owners should avoid using chemicals near the water, including fertilizers, especially within the three-metre buffer zone.

Short-term benefits include increased pollinator and wildlife habitat and erosion protection, she said.

Long-term benefits will include water-quality improvement, increased erosion control, as root systems become more developed, climate-change resiliency and regulating water temperatures.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer this program and work with landowners, demonstrating how individual efforts can make a huge difference in preserving our environment and protecting our lakes,” Song said.

For more information, visit SSEA’s website.

To sign up for Restore the Shore, contact the SSEA at 705-534-7283 or [email protected]. The deadline for registration is June 1, 2024.

It should also be noted that while the SSEA is dedicated to providing support for shoreline naturalization projects, assistance is limited to site visits, guidance and provision of native plants. They do not engage in shoreline engineering or any related landscaping/construction activities. Landowners are responsible for any required federal, provincial and municipal permits and or approvals.


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Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wayne Doyle covers the townships of Springwater, Oro-Medonte and Essa for BarrieToday under the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), which is funded by the Government of Canada
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